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Death, Taxes and Jury Duty

 

A Downtown Judge in Los Angeles Proves That the Civic Duty Cannot Be Ignored

by Richard Guzmán

 

Linda Fitzgerald stood in front of Superior Court Judge Lee S. Edmon and described her sleeping problems and other medical conditions. Helen Onofre told Edmon how hard it is to get the time off from work, while attorney Christopher Luria sent his own attorney to represent him and arrange a time to do the inevitable - serve on a jury.


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lee S. Edmon gives delinquent jurors a chance to serve before fines are imposed. Those who fail to appear could ultimately be ordered to pay $1,500. Photo by Gary Leonard.

 

Despite the impassioned testimony, Edmon was not swayed. You can't call in sick without a doctor's note, she told Fitzgerald. Arrangements were also made to have the others fulfill their civic duty.

"This court could not operate without having jurors here to serve," Edmon said last Tuesday at a sanction hearing aimed at getting delinquent Central District residents to respond to their jury-service notices.

The session was one of four being held this month at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Hill Street for residents who failed to respond to three jury duty notices.

Edmon's hearing was the last chance for them to avoid fines ranging from $250 to $1,500. "We don't want to sanction anyone. We want them to serve," Edmon said.

Los Angeles County sends out 3 million juror summons per year. Out of those, 1.5 million are ignored, said Frances Johnson, an administrator with juror services for Los Angeles Superior Court.

 

"If they need to be excused, they need to tell us that and respond to the summons, not just throw it away, because it is a legal document," Johnson said.

The only acceptable excuses, Johnson said, are extreme financial hardship, though someone must demonstrate they are under the poverty line; a doctor's note detailing an ailment or disease that prevents one from sitting on a jury; or someone depends on the potential juror's care, such as a baby or an elderly person.

 

Big Fines


Although 17 people were summoned to the Downtown Los Angeles hearing, only three responded in person (including Luria, who sent his attorney). Three others called to arrange to serve on a jury and 11 were simply no-shows, Johnson said.

 

"About 10% of the people on our calendar show up to the hearing, so the majority are fined," she said.

It's a significant sum, too. The 11 no-shows will be ordered to pay $250. That does not get them out of future service, either; they'll be sent another notice and the next failure to respond will cost $750. A third transgression will result in a $1,500 fine.

Fitzgerald came to court prepared.

She failed to respond to her latest summons due to a recent surgery, she said. She brought paperwork to prove her medical conditions, which include a disorder that causes her to fall asleep when she is sitting down and not being active.

She told Edmon she wants to serve, but her medical issues make doing so difficult.

With a welcoming smile and friendly demeanor, Judge Edmon appears like a pushover when it comes to hearing excuses. But like a caring parent trying to make sure the kids take their medicine, she tries to find a way around the lines she hears.

"There are things we can do to accommodate issues like sleep [disorders]," Edmon told Fitzgerald. "I believe you that you have [medical] issues, but in my view those do not prevent you from serving."

Edmon assigned Fitzgerald a date to appear and advised her the only way out of it is a doctor's note stating that her ailments would prevent her from serving.

"I came down today to tell them why I couldn't serve right now and ask if I could wait longer. I didn't want to have to pay $1,500 if I didn't show up," Fitzgerald said after the hearing, adding that she intends to get the doctor's note.

Onofre said she did not respond to her notices because her job at a supermarket does not pay her enough to sit on a jury. She and Edmon soon agreed on a time for Onofre to come back and fulfill her service.

"I still have to go to jury duty, but I'm happy this is over," Onofre said.

Luria, who was working on a trial, did not try to get out of serving. Instead, he sent his attorney and friend Stephen Shikes to represent him and arrange a date for his jury service.

"If you miss your duty jury you have the opportunity to make it up, and basically that's what this is all about," Shikes said.

"The important thing is that people serve on juries," he added. "We all get called. Sometimes we have to take a couple of days but it's a worthwhile experience."

And it beats the $1,500 fine.

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

 


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