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State Wants To Make Jury Duty Less Painful For People

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Jury Seats
RALEIGH, N.C. — A jury of our peers may be the cornerstone of the justice system, but filling up the box can sometimes be a bigger challenge than delivering a fair verdict.

In desperate times, Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones has pulled in potential jurors from the local Wal-Mart. When the jury pool suddenly drained last year, Jones had officers bring in the "no shows" to explain themselves.

"It's not fair to those who do comply to allow others to not comply with impunity," he said.

Judge Ralph Walker, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, is floating an idea to increase juror pay. Right now, jurors are paid $12 a day if they serve up to five days and $30 a day after that. The proposal would increase the stipend to $20, then $40. If approved, the increase would cost the state and taxpayers an extra $2.3 million a year.

"It's a recognition of the importance of their service," he said.

Officials said it is not just a money issue. In 2004, just 33 percent of Durham residents summoned actually served or were released. Many more never got word as 41 percent of the summons came back undeliverable.

Sometimes, little conveniences can help. Durham lawyers paid to put coffee machines and satellite TV in the jury lounge. A statewide survey shows easing the parking crunch around courthouses would eliminate a top gripe. Despite the perks, some question where the sense of civic duty is.

"I think that it's a sad commentay on American society when we've got to go out and give people further incentives or kidnap them from malls in order to get them in here," released juror Skip Anderson said.

Court administrators also point to a need for statewide standards of enforcement. They want more consistent penalties for those who skip out on jury duty. Right now, some counties issue contempt of court citations and fines on a regular basis.

Another idea under consideration is to raise the age limit to serve from 65 to 70.


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