Dodging jury duty could be costly

by Audrey Thomasson

LANCASTER—If citizens dodge jury duty, they may end up in court anyway—as a defendant. That was the case for two Lancaster men who did not show up for a civil trial on January 2.

Justin D. George and Samuel S. Oliver appeared Friday in Lancaster County Circuit Court before Judge R. Michael McKenney for failing to appear for jury duty. Both claimed they did not receive notification to report.

Judge McKenney reminded them it is an important civic duty to answer a summons to serve.

“You should look at it like a job,” explained Judge McKenney. “The accused expects to get a fair hearing. It’s a job to be done in an expeditious manner.”

He told the men to report a working phone number and updated contact information to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and be available for the next trial.

According to Clerk of the Circuit Court Diane Mumford, “Two other citizens called prior to the same trial with legitimate reasons why they could not appear that day. Judge McKenney excused them,” she said.

By some estimates, as many as 25% of jury summonses really do get lost in the mail because of outdated or inaccurate contact information.

George and Oliver got off with a warning, but with some statistics showing as much as 80% of the public not reporting for jury duty in some counties across the country, more courts are starting to crack down. Under new laws that criminalize repeat offenders, fines of $250 to $2,000 have been reported by LegalZoom, an online legal source. In some jurisdictions, ignore the summons and you could spend a couple of days in jail.

“If you just don’t show up for jury duty (in Virginia), you could be fined anywhere between $50 to $200,” according to Richmond attorney Tammy Ruble. “In some courts, failure to show up…will result in the judge ordering a capias for your arrest. Other courts issue a ‘show cause’ order requiring you to appear and explain why you did not show up for jury duty. If you do not have a valid reason, you may be fined or even incarcerated.”

By law, an employer cannot penalize employees for being absent for jury duty.