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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004


Thinking about skipping jury duty?

Choice: day in court or sheriff’s work detail

Express Staff Writer

So, you have no time for jury duty and think you can just ignore the summons to appear, or maybe you just forgot to show up in court?

OK, unless you have a better excuse than judges have been hearing for years, be prepared to spend a day on Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling’s work detail laboring at some task decidedly less interesting than a day in court as a juror.

"Forgetting doesn’t work" as an excuse, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee said. And neither does being indignant about the jury system.

Spending a day on the sheriff’s work detail is what retiring 5th District Judge James May and his successor, former Blaine County Magistrate Elgee, decided several years ago would be appropriate punishment for residents summoned for possible jury duty.

May, 78, is stepping down May 1 after 17 years on the bench.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne selected Elgee over Twin Falls attorneys Richard Greenwood and Thomas Kershaw Jr. The state Judicial Council nominated the three as potential replacements to May.

Elgee said he and May decided upon the work detail as a form of punishment because allowing no-shows to pay a fine leaves no impression of neglecting civic responsibility, especially potential jurors among the upper income ranks.

"Take their time (away), not their money," said Elgee in what sounds like a court motto.

As for chores awaiting those forgetting or ducking jury duty, Chief Deputy Sheriff Gene Ramsey said there’s a long list of jobs to be performed.

The day may be working at the recycling center in Ohio Gulch, cleaning animal pens at the Animal Shelter or exercising dogs, picking up trash along the highway.

Once they’ve spent a day on the work detail, Chief Ramsey said, "they’re always remorseful" they didn’t show for jury duty.

The sheriff’s detail schedules work on Wednesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Elgee estimated as many as 60 persons have been sent to the work detail for missing jury duty over the past two years, although Chief Ramsey believes there may have been more.

Ramsey recalls one detail with 25 persons who’d ignored jury summons.

Elgee recognizes that jury duty does pay much ($10 per day and 37.5 cents per mile for travel reimbursement).

"But the system can’t work without juries," the judge said.

Some potential jurors are excused from service at a judge’s discretion for reasons including hardship, age or medical issues.

Blaine County summons 300 potential jurors every two months. During the present term, 137 have been qualified for duty, according to deputy district court clerk Andrea Logan.

Jurors remain on call for two months.


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