When duty calls | Kitsap Week

Navigating the ins and outs of Kitsap County jury service

Brrr-rring. The telephone rings all morning in the jury office. The calls come from citizens who have questions regarding their jury summons.

“Good morning, jury administrative office, this is Cathie. How may I help you?”

One person lost his paperwork. Another one needs to reschedule, as she will be out of town during her week of service. Yet another needs to be excused because she is a full-time student and cannot miss class.

With each call, jury administrators Cathie Blackstock and Julie Sleeth speak compassionately and with understanding.

“We tend to think of this as a kinder, gentler jury office than most places,” Blackstock said.

If you remember the sheriff’s office on “The Andy Griffith Show,” you may recall how Aunt Bee decorated the office to make it as comfortable as possible, including placing doilies in the jail cell.

The Kitsap County jury office has a similar, pleasant feeling. Magazines, books and puzzles are neatly stacked for use. Coffee brews on the back counter. A handwritten sign welcomes you to jury duty.

But before you confuse a visit to the juror’s office with a social call, Blackstock and Sleeth want to remind you that a summons is a legal document, not an invitation to a party. While they try to make the experience as pleasant as possible, intentionally neglecting your summons is against the law and is considered a misdemeanor.

For the system to work, it’s imperative for citizens to follow the printed instructions on their summons.

Each week, the jury office sends out about 700 summonses to citizens. Of those 700, only about half of the recipients are able to serve on a jury. The other half will either have scheduling conflicts, childcare issues, an illness or other issues. They will need to either reschedule to a more convenient week or, if they qualify, may ask to be permanently excused.

“How was I selected?”
The pool of jurors is randomly selected from a database that is made up from voter registration and Department of Licensing information. It is possible to be summoned twice in one year if your name is different on your voter registration than on your state issued identification card or drivers license. For example, if on your voter registration you are listed as “Will Smith” but on your driver’s license you are “William Smith,” the system will recognize you as two different people and could potentially send out two summonses.

“I received a summons. Now what?”
Fill out the confidential juror profile and mail it back to the office, or fill out the profile online. This needs to be completed within five days of receiving the summons. The qualification questions determine your eligibility to serve on a jury. For instance, if you have been convicted of a felony and your civil rights haven’t been restored, you are not qualified to serve on a jury. You are also ineligible if you cannot communicate in English, no longer reside in Kitsap, are younger than 18, or are not a U.S. citizen.

“What if I already served on a jury within the past year?”
If you have served on a state, federal or municipal jury, you may request to be excused. You will need to show evidence if you served outside of Kitsap County. (If you served inside the county, the clerks will verify that you indeed did serve.) Blackstock said oftentimes people’s recollections are off by a year or two. “They will tell me, ‘I know I served recently.’ And then I’ll look it up and they served in 2008,” she said.

“What if I can’t serve the week I am scheduled to appear?”
You can ask for a deferral and reschedule your service. You are allowed to request a deferral up to four times per year. After the fourth request, the system will not grant you a fifth deferral.

Note: Mailing summonses and reminder cards cost money. If something arises and you are no longer able to serve during your rescheduled week, call the jury office as soon as possible to rebook. Each mailed summons costs about $2. While this is not a significant sum on an individual basis, it quickly adds up.

“If I say I’m available, I’ll have to report and sit there all week, even if I’m not needed.”
Beginning at 6 p.m. on the Friday prior to the week you are to report, you should call the jury hotline and see if you have been selected to appear on Monday. If you aren’t selected for Monday, call back again Monday evening. Again, if you aren’t selected, you call in on Tuesday evening, and so on for the week. Potentially, your group may never get called and your week of service is then complete.

If you call in and your group is scheduled to report, you need to show up on time on your scheduled day. If you are not selected for the jury, you will have completed your service and no longer need to call in to report.

If you report for jury duty and are seated on a jury, you will serve until the trial is completed.

“I’m a senior citizen and am automatically exempt from serving as a juror.”
If you are over the age of 75, you can request to be excused or permanently disqualified. However, your age doesn’t preclude you from serving. In fact, Blackstock said some of the best jurors are those in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

“They have a sense of civic duty and patriotism and are very dependable,” she said. “We don’t discriminate on the basis of age.” (However, you must be 18 or older.)

“I can’t be away from my family overnight.”
A juror would only be required to stay away overnight if the jury was sequestered. In the 22 years that Blackstock has worked for Kitsap County’s court system, she cannot recall a time that this happened.

“I can’t afford to miss a week of work.”
The jury administration office cannot excuse people for work or financial hardships. If your group is selected to report, you must show up. However, the judge will review work and financial hardships prior to jury selection and at that time you may discuss your issue.

“I’m a police officer. I won’t be selected to serve on a jury.”
Police officers, attorneys and even judges have served on Kitsap juries. Uniformed personnel must report for jury duty in civilian clothing.

“I’m a teacher. I can’t miss a week from my students.”
Call the jury administration office. You can reschedule your week of service during a school break.

“If I’m summoned in Kitsap County, I will have to report to the courthouse in Port Orchard.”
Kitsap County Jury Administration provides jurors five locations across the county. If your group is selected, you will be told where to report, which may or may not be Port Orchard.

“My boss won’t allow me time off for jury duty.”
Employers must respect your summons to appear. Washington state law says, “Any employer shall provide an employee with sufficient leave of absence from employment to serve as a juror when that employee is summoned. An employer shall not deprive an employee of employment or threaten, coerce, or harass an employee, or deny an employee promotional opportunities because the employee receives a summons, serves as a juror, or attends court for prospective jury service.” (See RCW 2.36.165.)

The jury administration office can provide you with proper documentation to prove you were on jury duty.

“Will I get paid to serve?”
If you report to jury duty, you will receive $10 per day, plus mileage. Right now the mileage rate is 51 cents per mile.

“If I’m selected to serve, do I continue to call the hotline to check my group number?”
Once selected to sit on a jury, you are under jurisdiction of the court. You will follow instructions from the judge and the bailiff.

“What should I wear?”
You don’t need to dress formally, but you should dress respectfully.

“Why must I wear a juror badge?”
If you are seated on a jury, you will be given a color-coded badge assigned to the courtroom where you are hearing the trial. There are a couple of important reasons for this.

With jurors wearing badges, the bailiff can easily identify a juror in a wrong courtroom and can help direct the juror to the correct one.Also, you will be asked to wear your badge outside your clothing while walking to and from your car and during breaks. The citizens of Port Orchard are very familiar with jurors walking around the town wearing the badges. This helps to prevent people (attorneys, judges and other courtroom personnel) from saying something in front of you that could result in a mistrial.

Wearing a badge prevents an attorney or judge from striking up a conversation with you in while in line at a coffee shop.

“The U.S. Constitution states that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and if they request a trial by jury, it’s up to the jury to decide the outcome,” Blackstock said. “The jury should be of one’s peers, which means a wide range of citizens in your community.”

Every trial is different and every judge orders jurors differently. Some judges are confident that they can seat a jury from a pool of 35-40 potential jurors. Others want more wiggle room and will call 65. Sometimes there are weeks when the court system depletes the pool of jurors, resulting in a delay of trial.

There is no doubt about it, jurors are an important part of our judicial system.

And for the courtroom drama lovers, it’s a great way to be exposed to the real deal.

Sure, you’ve heard the legal terms “objection” and “overruled” countless times on television and in movies, but witnessing an actual courtroom scene is memorable and educational.

And that’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.