The Los Angeles Superior Court held hearings in Pomona on Thursday for people who skipped out on scheduled jury duty.
The court, which serves Los Angeles County, called attention to the hearings as the percentage of citizens showing up to serve on juries has been declining in the past few years, a trend that has implications for the diversity of jury pools and, some say, the fairness of court trials.
“You want a jury that is made up of people who represent the entire community. Not just people, for instance, who are retired,” said Mary Eckhardt Hearn, public information officer for Los Angeles Superior Court. “We love having retired people on the juries, but we recognize that we don’t want a jury solely made up of retirees. We want that cross section."
Eckhardt Hearn said many people who work 40 hours a week may not have as much time to serve on juries, but that the courts work hard to increase representation and want to people with a variety of education levels, ethnic backgrounds and income levels.
During the past two weeks, more than a dozen county residents have appeared before Judge Salvatore Sirna, supervising judge for the sanction hearings at the Pomona Courthouse.
Those who attended avoided sanctions by making arrangements to serve. Others who did not appear as summoned were automatically fined. Those fines can start at $250 and rise to $1,500 for a third offense.
Numbers from the Superior Court show only about 60 percent of those who received a jury summons during the 2016-2017 fiscal year responded to them and participation has been on the downturn for the past few years. One major problem appears to be incorrect addresses that cause many summons to never reach the intended recipient.
In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, 1,893,702 jurors were summoned, according to the court's numbers. Some 960,261 responded and 621,561 did not. Meantime, 311,880 summonses were undelivered.
Low rates of citizens participating in juries can have all kinds of consequences. For one, low participation can result in a lack of diversity in jury pools, which some argue can introduce bias into court trials.
"Folks have biases of all kinds — it may be a racial bias, it may be a bias of where they grew up, what zip code they lived in," said Jenny Delwood, executive vice president at Liberty Hill Foundation, which works on social justice issues in L.A. county.
Researchers have also found that full participation in jury duty is linked to higher rates of voter turnout.
"When you serve as a juror you're connecting into our greater democratic process," said Mindy Romero, the founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at University of California, Davis. "Something about that is also connecting people to then participate in another element of our democracy, which is voting."
Los Angeles County has recorded historically low rates of turnout among eligible voters.
If you’ve been asked to serve on a jury, your best bet is to respond right away to avoid problems.
Sanction hearings will continue on a weekly basis each Thursday at the Pomona Courthouse through the end of March. In April, the hearings move to the Pasadena Courthouse and, in May, they take place at the Norwalk Courthouse.