An overwhelming number of Texas voters believe that people should be held accountable for ignoring a summons to jury service, and a majority support tougher penalties for individuals who shirk the responsibility, according to a new public opinion survey released Wednesday, Aug. 22, by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) of Central Texas.
The survey of Texas voters found that most Ã¯Â¿Â½ nearly 90 percent Ã¯Â¿Â½ believe serving on a jury is an important right, and 87 percent say jury no-shows hurt our civil justice system.
About 65 percent of those summoned in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties do not report for jury service; between 5 percent and 10 percent of those summoned blatantly ignore their summons. In some Texas counties, 80 percent do not report for jury service when summoned.
"The good news is that most voters believe serving on a jury is an important right and that all Texans should answer the call when summoned to serve," said Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Pest & Lawn and vice chairman of CALA of Central Texas. "Obviously, we are talking the talk, but not walking the walk when it actually comes to reporting for jury service. Jury no-shows in Texas jeopardize justice, and Texas voters agree."
Also attending the press conference was former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, an Austin attorney who also had experience working with jurors as a district court judge.
"We know that our great country was founded on the principle that all people have the right to be free," Enoch said. "But we sometimes forget that a cornerstone of that principle, and one this country's founders spilled their blood over, was the right to have our disputes resolved by a jury of our peers. This week, I was called to jury duty. And I reported for duty. I'm here today to say to my fellow citizens Ã¯Â¿Â½ please, when you are called to jury duty, report for duty."
About 90 percent of those surveyed said Texans should be held accountable for ignoring a jury summons. A majority support stronger sanctions against no-shows, including increasing the maximum fine (now $100-$1,000) for failure to report for jury duty (54 percent) and suspending the driver's license of repeated jury service no-shows (51 percent).
"Jury service is one of the best weapons we have against lawsuit abuse," Jenkins said. "Every citizen can do his or her part to bring fairness and balance to the civil justice system by serving on a jury when called.
High numbers of jury no-shows hurt our civil justice system, believe 87 percent of those surveyed. They stated, specifically, that they feared that a lack of available jurors could:
-Delay scheduled trials (90.4 percent), and that such delays could lead to a backlog of cases (90.5 percent).
-Create juries that are not representative of local communities or composed of "peers" (85.7 percent).
- Potentially impact the quality of justice (89 percent).
- Force those who do respond to a juror summons to shoulder a greater burden, such as increased or repeated summons (85 percent).
Many of those surveyed were surprised at the high number of people who ignore a jury summons. About 40 percent of voters surveyed believed that 20 percent of those summoned to service ignore the call while another 23 percent estimated the figure to be 40 percent.
The State of Texas and local counties are taking steps to make it easier for busy Texans to fulfill their jury service.
In 2005, Texas lawmakers increased juror pay from $6 to a minimum of $40 per day after the first day of service. However, the CALA survey found that fewer than 3 in 10 voters (27.5 percent) were aware of this pay increase. More than half (55.3 percent) of voters said the increase would make them more likely to respond the next time they were summoned for jury service.
"While Texas lawmakers have provided a carrot, it is clear from our survey that Texas voters also support having a strong stick in the delicate balancing of encouraging people to answer the call," Jenkins said. "We want to challenge Texans to stand up for jury service and take a seat on a jury."
The survey of 400 Texas voters was conducted June 12-18, 2007, and has a margin of error of + 4 percent. The survey was conducted on behalf of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups in Texas by Braun Research Inc.
Founded in the Valley in 1990, the CALA movement is dedicated to making the public better aware of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse. More than 25,000 Texans now support the movement. For more information, visit www.calactx.com.