Thursday, October 14, 2010



At least one Santa Barbara judge is cracking down on anyone who attempts to evade jury duty.

Superior Court Judge J. William Lafferty recently ordered nineteen such evaders into court to explain their recalcitrant behavior--and handed out fines to fourteen of them for insubordination, along with imminent jury duty.

Superior Court Executive Officer Gary Blair explained the juror summons procedure to The Investigator: Santa Barbara residents are sent a summons by first-class mail, after which they receive a follow-up reminder, after which, if they still haven't manifested themselves, they receive a warning letter.

If all three mailings are ignored, the Sheriff's Department may send a deputy (as ordered by a judge) to personally deliver a final missive demanding that the recipient "show cause" by appearing in court, where a fine and jury duty await.

To make it stick, the deputy must confront the summoned individual (presumably at home) and sign a "proof of delivery" statement affirming that the summons was indeed received by the person to whom it was addressed. Without proof of service, the case can go no further.

But if properly served, failure by the recipient to appear in court on the specified date can result in the issuance of an arrest warrant.

Despite payment far below minimum wage (an eight-hour day for $1.88 per hour, in disparity with California's $8 per hour lawful minimum), it is a citizen's obligation, and patriotic duty, to serve on a jury if so summoned and selected from a jury pool.

According to the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), this is actually a citizen's chance to do some real good for society. For FIJA views jury duty as an opportunity to do more than just evaluate the facts of a case as instructed by the judge. A juror, the group says, is constitutionally entitled to engage in jury nullification of law or, as it is also known, jury power.

Most judges do not agree with a juror's right to determine whether the law in question is a good law, or a bad law, or if the law has been justly applied. Judges generally believe that a juror's role is solely to evaluate testimony and evidence, and thereby determine only if the law has been broken.

But proponents of jury power will vote to acquit a defendant if they feel that the law is guilty, not the defendant.

For example, if the federal government prosecuted a marijuana possession case in a state that permitted medical marijuana, a juror may be tempted to acquit the perpetrator on the basis that state law is more equitable i.e. that the law being pursued is flawed, not the accused.

Typically, judges feel that jury power erodes their own authority, which means they may disallow potential jurors who fully understand their rights from serving on a jury in their courtrooms. Moreover, it is prudent for a prospective juror to announce up front if he or she subscribes to jury nullification of law so that the judge cannot later, after a trial, hold a juror in contempt of court for "hiding" a belief in jury power.

This has actually happened in some cases where jurors did not disclose their awareness of their right to vote their conscience, and the judge misinterpreted their silence as an "obstruction of justice."

Mr. Blair told The Investigator he knows of no case in Santa Barbara where a juror has been well enough informed to invoke jury nullification of law.

He added that, quite apart from how a local judge may feel about a potential juror's intention to put the law on trial in addition to the defendant, "the lawyers (for both sides) would probably throw him or her out."

Which may be one way to avoid the worst paying job in the state.