New court term, same jurors: Some ask, ‘Why?’

Tue, 04/08/2008 - 4:41pm
By: John Munford

Potential jurors standing in line at the recent sessions of Fayette State and Superior courts found they had at least one thing in common.

Many had also been called to serve as jurors last year. That caused some to question why they were so favored as to get back-to-back summons to jury duty.

Here’s the explanation.

After significant questions arose late last fall over data used to compile Fayette County’s pool of jurors, Clerk of Court Sheila Studdard took an extraordinary action.

She sought, and won, a court order extending the normal two-year limit on the jury pool that was due to expire in December 2007. The catch was that some jurors had to serve in the March term of court who had previously served as recently as two years ago.

Georgia law allows jurors to be re-used for the pool as soon as one term of court has transpired since their most previous service, Studdard said. In Fayette County that means the same jurors can be summoned once every year in Superior Court and once every four months in State Court.

But to keep jurors from being re-used so often, Studdard’s office has placed a minimum distance of two years between service by any one juror, she said. Using the older list, however, required that informal policy to be broken for the March term of Superior Court.

As a politician, inconveniencing jurors — many of whom are voters — is not a good idea. Studdard said she is acutely aware of that axiom and says the problem has been fixed: the most updated information will be in play for jurors needed for the next term of court in May.

Though some of the March jurors were inconvenienced, Studdard said once she explained her concerns they seemed to understand why she had to take the action.

Had her office used bad data to draw the jury pool, it likely would have subjected any criminal convictions during that term of court to an appeal, Studdard said.

Instead, Studdard now is confident those convictions will withstand any jury challenge.

“I am 100 percent certain they cannot challenge the jury box,” she said Tuesday.

By law, Fayette is required to use a system that has a significant amount of outdated information, Studdard explained. The jury pools must be comprised of people on one of two lists: registered voters and those with driver’s licenses who are 18 years or older.

Those lists come from two sources, Studdard said: the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, which provides the list of registered voters, and from the Georgia Department of Drivers Services, which provides the list of licensed drivers 18 years and older.

That data leads to some problems, however, because it is outdated in some respects, Studdard explained.

When a Fayette judge orders a certain amount of jurors for a term of court, Studdard’s office has to send jury summons to 25 percent more potential jurors to make sure there are enough jurors to hold court, she explained.

That is done to account for the amount of undeliverable mail that’s returned because so many residents on the jury pool list no longer live at the addresses provided by the driver’s license and registered voters lists, Studdard explained.

When the most recent data was acquired last year from the Secretary of State’s office and from the Georgia Department of Driver Services, Studdard said she was surprised how similar the lists were. She had figured that there would be some disparity between the lists, with some people having a driver’s license yet not being registered to vote, and vice versa.

Studdard said the analysis she ordered of the lists proved her wrong, and the “latest and greatest” information will be used for the jury pool for the May term of court.

Though she regrets the inconvenience to jurors who had to serve again so quickly after their previous service, Studdard said it would have been a disaster had Fayette County used bad data that allowed the jury pool to be challenged with significant criminal cases overturned.

Studdard’s concerns developed several months ago after a resident vigorously complained to her about the jury pool process, she said. The resident was upset that although he had lived in Fayette more than nine years, he hadn’t been summoned to jury duty; rather, he received a jury summons addressed to the previous owner of his house.

There was no time to conduct a thorough review of the latest databases to check for discrepancies, Studdard said; thus she asked for the order to extend the two-year life of the previous jury pool.

The subsequent review of both the driver’s license and registered voters lists determined they were indeed accurate, and that Fayette has a high number of people who are properly on both lists, Studdard said.

Studdard noted that Georgia regulations require the voter information to come from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office instead of the local Fayette County Board of Elections.

login to post comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:21pm.

Been in Fayette County since 1987 and have yet served.
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:56pm.

Never been invited to the jury party. Would be glad to serve, but when they ask how I feel about the death penalty and repeat offenders, I would be thrown off.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 7:23pm.

Eight years without a summons came to an end last year. Had a huge jury pool, they asked "who in here has State Farm Insurance? You are excused" and half the pool left.

I did 3 trials in 5 days. The court system is very interesting...quite a number of attornies bumbling their way around. We told the judge we were deadlocked 10-1 on one trial and the judge read us the riot act.

Paul Perkins's picture
Submitted by Paul Perkins on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 2:30pm.

When you have Vanna White running the place instead of a management type person.

Bud was bald and not nearly as good looking but he got your papers filed and returned to you in a timely fashion and ran the place like it was his own money on the line.

This is the way to blog!

Submitted by oldbeachbear on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:23pm.

I've lived here since 2000...have always been registered to vote, and over 18, been retired for a number of years, don't have any record, unless you want to count Tyrone police slobering on my DL every chance they get. In fact I have a national security clearance....and I HAVE NEVER ONCE GOT ANYTHING TO BE ON A JURY IN FAYETTE COUNTY! I don't know what this person is doing...but it ain't right.

cogitoergofay's picture
Submitted by cogitoergofay on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 4:31pm.

This story is quite odd and is not clear. It appears that Mr. Munford has written nothing more than an incumbent election year piece. It appears that this bureaucrat inconvenienced that small portion of our electorate that is indeed willing to discharge their patriotic duty. I have never heard of such a thing.

Voice of Fayette Future's picture
Submitted by Voice of Fayett... on Wed, 04/09/2008 - 8:00pm.

This is an election shill piece.

Little history. Bud Ballard, Clerk of Court, was one of the finest public servants we ever had in Fayette County. He came to work at 7 in the morning. Was very respectful of the public and his staff and treated strangers with respect. He had one fatal flaw. He was loyal. He had been elected way back when as a Democrat. He thought it dishonorable to leave the Democrat party, just because the county morphed into a GOP stronghold.

Along came Sheila Studdard and the RINO crowd. Out went Mr. Bud and out went quality public service.

Ironic, none of the Democrats came to his rescue like guilty conscience Judy whatever her name is.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.