The SE Texas Record Nov. 29, 2014, 6:00pm


AUSTIN — According to a recent study, Texans called to serve on a jury still are not showing up.

The study found that in some Texas counties, as many as 80 percent of those summoned for jury duty simply fail to show up. 

The study was commissioned by legal watchdogs Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) to research response rates in 13 Texas counties over the last four years.

Ten counties responded, showing a widespread problem in Texas with low rates of participation in jury service, even after reforms were passed to increase juror pay.

Noting the importance of jury service to our civil justice system, Governor Rick Perry has declared July to be Juror Appreciation Month in Texas.

In his proclamation, Gov. Perry stated, "The right to a trial by a jury of our peers is a critical part of our justice system. Unfortunately, many undervalue that right and shirk responsibility when they are called to jury service."

Because plaintiffs, defendants and our communities as a whole all have a vested interest in fair, impartial justice, it is imperative that every citizen prioritize jury service and thoughtfully, respectfully serve when called."

"Our justice system doesn't work without people," said Jennifer Harris of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas. "We need more Texans to follow the Governor's lead and respond to the call to service."

Highlights from the study on jury service participation rates include:

• Montgomery County (14.12 percent) and Harris County (26.54 percent) notched the lowest participation rates of examined counties, and also showed a decline from the previous year (2012).

• Cameron County reported the highest participation rates of those counties surveyed with nearly 73 percent.

• Participation varies by zip code. In 2004 in Harris County, jury participation ranged from 5 percent to 35 percent, depending on zip code, with higher response rates among higher income neighborhoods.

• Transitions to electronic summons systems, which save on postage and reduce administrative costs for counties, have had varying success and impact on jury service participation. Hidalgo County saw a lower juror response rate in 2010 after the implementation of the new online summons system.

"Nearly 90 percent of Texans believe that serving on a jury is important, but they still aren't showing up," said Diane Davis of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse. "They might talk the talk, but Texans certainly  don't walk the walk when it comes to serving on a jury. It's time we changed that."

CALA is working to raise awareness about jury service as an important civic duty and a critical role to the ability of our courts to be able to properly function.

“The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is one of the most important freedoms Americans enjoy,” added Connie Scott of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (BACALA). “It’s integral to have a jury of engaged citizens to make sure that our justice system runs efficiency and how it was intended.”

“Texans need to appreciate the important role jurors play in our civil justice system. By returning an impartial verdict, jurors make sure our courts are used for justice, not greed,” said Febe Zepeda of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (RGVCALA). “Jurors also increase the transparency to make sure that all of our valid court cases receive an equal and fair consideration.”

“Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups are proud to be working across Texas to shine a light on this issue, educate citizens on the importance of jury service and encourage citizens to answer the call to serve,” said Hazel Meaux of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) . “We’re grateful to have Gov. Perry join us in this effort to improve jury service participation across the state.”

 

 

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