West Texas residents who donâ€™t show up for jury duty will soon face stiff penalties and possible jail time. Judge Roy Ferguson presides over the 394th Judicial District Court, which includes Culberson County. District-wide,response to jury summonses has dropped below 30 percent. Some counties in the district are seeing less than 15 percent of summoned residents show up for jury service.
As a result, the district clerks must mail as many as 700 jury notices for each trial to get enough prospective jurors to hold court. The increased cost to the counties is substantial — up to thousands of dollars per county, per year, depending on the number of jury trials.
“County budgets are tight across West Texas,â€ said Judge Ferguson. “Taxes are high, and every dollar counts. I am confident that our residents will step up when called. The jury trial is the cornerstone of our justice system. Being a juror is not just a duty, it is a Constitutional privilege. When people skip jury duty, the justice system grinds to a halt,â€ said Judge Ferguson.
Part of the problem may stem from the historical infrequency of jury trials in the area. “Many people donâ€™t understand that all but 14 people who appear for jury duty will be done and gone by early afternoon. It is a small time-commitment, but an important one,â€ said Judge Ferguson.
Texas courts can punish people who skip jury duty by imposing fines up to $1,000, and even jail time. Those people are summoned by law enforcement to come before a judge to explain why they should not be punished. Historically, this enforcement system has proven to be very effective. In El Paso County, the process reportedly increased the juror response rate to almost 90 percent. Judge Ferguson said that similar efforts and results are needed in the 394th Judicial District.
Judge-Elect Francisco X. Dominguez of the 205th District Court (which overlaps Culberson County) shares Judge Fergusonâ€™s concerns about the lack of juror participation. Judge-Elect Dominguez will coordinate with Judge Fergusonâ€™s efforts to increase juror participation after taking office in January of 2015.
So remember — when you get called for jury duty, SHOW UP, or be prepared to PAY UP!