Jury service is a civic duty and a safeguard of liberty. Decisions by citizens have preserved freedom of the press and many of our other basic rights. That’s why the California Legislature designated the second full week in May each year to honor ordinary citizens exercising their civic duty to serve as jurors and making the right to trial by jury possible.
During the 18th Juror Appreciation Week, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse would like to congratulate and thank those of you who have served. At the same time, it is deeply upsetting that too many Californians shun this responsibility when called. According to a study our group just released, in the 15 largest counties last year, 20 percent of all those who received a jury summons simply didn’t show up. In San Diego County, it was 45 percent.
If people avoid jury service, the quality of justice we receive, as plaintiffs or defendants in a lawsuit – or scarier still, as a defendant in a criminal case – is greatly diminished.
It’s important that a jury represent a cross section of the community, where all points of view are expressed. Every citizen is expected to serve on a jury when called, including young adults who have just registered to vote, the middle aged and retirees.
Our responsibilities as jurors are enormous. Jurors decide guilt or innocence. In lawsuits, jurors determine who is right and who pays damages. If you were sued or charged with an offense, wouldn’t you want to be judged by a balanced jury of your peers?
Serving as a juror is integral to our democracy, and we must all participate to ensure it works. While we all have busy lives filled with personal responsibilities, this is a duty that enables our legal system to run as our Constitution intends.
To address concerns about jury duty, the judicial branch has taken steps to improve jury service to benefit both those using the court system and the Californians who serve each year. Because of California’s one-day or one-trial system, jury service is more manageable. We’re running out of excuses to not show up.
So during this Juror Appreciation Week, we ask everyone to follow the example of the Californians who have answered the call to serve and completed their civic duty. When that jury summons arrives in the mail, think about how you can do your part and keep our legal system fair.
Tom Scott is executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.