It was an honor for me to sponsor the annual Fresno County Proclamation recognizing Juror Appreciation Week.
In the recent proclamation by the Board of Supervisors members of the judiciary acknowledged the integral part jurors play in our American justice system. In fact, the right to a jury trial is so fundamental it is promulgated as the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The jury service process is an important way for ordinary citizens to do their part in ensuring a fair and representative justice system while also serving to educate our community on the merits of legal process.
While at times it can be viewed as a civic burden, we should all agree on how important it is to serve when called for jury service. According to a recent study by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse many Californian simply do not show up when summoned for jury duty.
The study examined the 15 largest counties in the state that are home to 82% of the total state population, and looked at how many Californians complete their jury service when summoned. Overall, the study found 20.43% percent of all those summoned for jury duty simply do not appear.
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It was exciting to learn, however, Fresno County ranked among the highest participants in the juror pool. Only 7.71% failed to appear — 13% below the weighted average for the 15 counties studied in the state. We can always do better, and we should try, but we are doing a much better job than many other counties.
Presiding Judge Jon Conklin expressed it best when he described this dynamic as “a very positive reflection on how Fresno County courts and the community are working in tandem for effective jury representation.”
There are a number of reasons the participation rate is higher in Fresno but not least among them is the court system’s willingness to work with the people responding to their civic duty.
Fresno courts offer up to nine months of extensions so people in the middle of a busy time at work or in the middle of family obligations can find alternative times. Our courts also allow jurors to check in several days in the week to allow for flexibility. Our courts respect the juror’s time.
The importance of jurors’ responsibilities cannot be understated. In civil lawsuits, juries can determine who is in the wrong and who pays damages. In criminal cases, juries may be deciding between guilt and innocence, and determining the length of a prison sentence.
This aspect moves beyond just the courtroom. Local communities benefit from a legal system that is balanced and impartial. The civil litigation system is responsible for handling a wide array of disputes that impact businesses, individuals, nonprofits and government. In this way jurors have a direct impact on their local communities and their resident businesses.
It is true we have a Constitutional right to a fair legal system, but the only way to make sure it is fair is for everyone to participate. Improving the juror participation rate would make the system even more representative and equitable. I encourage everyone to stand up, take pride in the job we are doing here and let those 7.71% who fail to appear know that we are all expected to serve when called in Fresno County.
Andreas Borgeas represent District 2 on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and is a professor at San Joaquin College of Law.