It’s in your court: January 14, 2015


You Must RSVP to
The Jury Summons
An article in the December 18, 2014, issue of the Wall Street Journal describes the growing trend of invitees failing to RSVP to invitations to formal events such as banquets, parties and weddings.  At one event 96 invitees who failed to RSVP showed up at an event and most sat in the hallway and some were served no meal. The writer believes that this is due to our “just-in-time” mentality and instant communication so we want to decide on the morning of the event whether we will go, a mentality that is frankly entirely self-centered and rude to the invitor. “RSVP” is French for “please reply.”
One invitation that it is criminal to ignore and fail to RSVP to is a jury summons. Assume you pick up your mail and find an official-looking letter from your local district court administrator. You open the envelope and discover that you have been summoned for jury duty. What is your initial reaction?
1. Excitement: Good for you!  You may have been a voter or holder of a drivers’ license or State Identification Card for years, but have never been called to jury duty until now.  You feel that jury duty is your responsibility as an American and Minnesota citizen. You recall hearing in high school civics class that over the last 2 centuries Americans in hundreds of thousands have died in the fields, in the skies and on the shores of Europe, Asia, and elsewhere to preserve our freedoms, including the right to stand in judgment of our peers as a juror
2. Dread: My employer is going to be upset. There is no one else to do my job. It’s my busiest time of year. Who else is going to care for my daycare children? I have too much to do  These are all understandable first reactions. If someone called to jury duty has a commitment that they simply cannot change, such as medical treatment or a scheduled trip, they can request the court administrator to schedule their jury duty at another time. For example, a teacher may be able to serve in the summer or a farmer during the winter months. Under Minnesota law employers must release jurors from work for jury duty, and employers cannot discipline employees for serving on a jury.  However, employers are not required to pay employees for lost time at work for jury duty.  Self-employed persons are not automatically excused from jury duty. 
3. Bewilderment:  You are pleased to serve on a jury but have questions about what will happen.  As a juror you will watch a videotape telling you about the basics of jury duty.  This information is also available on the state court website at  Many citizens called to jury duty will not be randomly called to the panel or may be excused by the judge and lawyers.  Many jury trials are no longer than 5 days and do not involve jurors being sequestered in a hotel during deliberations, other than complex civil litigation or very serious criminal trials.  Direct any questions to court staff.
4. Ambivalence: You are about to consider the jury summons as just another piece of junk mail and are about to throw it away.  Think again!  It is a misdemeanor ($1,000 fine, 90 days in jail, or both) in Minnesota to fail to respond to the jury summons and fail to appear for jury duty if called to service.  See Minn. Stat. § 593.42, subd. 4.
Currently jurors are paid a daily fee of $10 plus mileage (Yes, I know, it’s way too low).  The daily fee only 10 years ago was $40 but was reduced due to budget restraints.  Jurors not employed outside the home are also eligible for daycare reimbursement if their children are usually not in daycare.  Questions regarding compensation may be addressed to your court administrator.
Many judicial districts and counties have websites with basic juror information.  In general, jury service includes the following:
1. Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except during deliberations at the end of the trial.
2. Parking: Provided by the Court.  Inquire of court staff if you want details.
3. Decorum:  Appropriate attire, no use of tobacco products, and no cell phone use except outside of the courthouse.  In some counties cell phones are requested to be left in the juror’s vehicle.  Ask whether you can bring water into the courtroom.
4. Waiting: There can be long waits to be called for service or during the judge’s discussions with the lawyers.  Magazines, playing cards, puzzles, and generic videos (travel, nature) may help you pass the time.  Most courthouses do not permit internet access.
5. Breaks and meals: Generally the court will take a mid-morning and mid-afternoon recess of 15-minutes and you will have an hour or longer for lunch on your own.  Meals will be provided by the court only during deliberations.  
Retired Judge George Harrelson of Lyon County has made an insightful observation of juries, “There is something almost magical about juries.  We take people from different backgrounds: farmers, college students, business workers, [people of various creeds and ethnic origins].  We give them a brief orientation and . . . we turn them into judges.  Want to know a secret?  They do a much better job than any individual judge can do.  The accumulated knowledge, experience, common sense, and the ability to look at issues from different perspectives make the jury system the most valuable tool for justice that has ever been invented.”
Please be aware: There is currently a nationwide identity theft scam where prospective jurors are called and asked to give their personal information.  Minnesota Court Staff will never ask prospective jurors for financial information such as credit card or bank account information or Social Security numbers over the phone.   DO NOT provide this kind of information to anyone over the phone claiming to represent the court system.  If you receive this kind of request, hang up and contact your local law enforcement agency and your local jury office directly.
Jury service is among our duties and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.  We should serve with willingness and devotion.  Remember, it’s in your court.
Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo.  Judge Halsey is the host of “The District Court Show” on local cable TV public access channels throughout the Tenth Judicial District.  Excerpts can be viewed at  Go to Community and click “The District Court Show.”  Judge Halsey may also be heard on “Legal Happenings” on KRWC 1360 AM (Buffalo) on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.  
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