Judge chastises 2 for ignoring call to jury duty

Two women got an earful along with fines from a federal judge in U.S. Middle District Court Tuesday for skipping jury selection duty Oct. 21.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann fined each $100, but the nominal fine wasn’t the message he hoped would sink in for Jennifer Lynn Coleman, 38, of Millmont, and Jessica Marie Miller, 25, of South Williamsport.

After realizing they hadn’t a good cause for their avoidance of selection of jurors for a four-day civil jury trial case, the judge compared their shirking responsibility to opposite actions displayed by Sgt. Elwood C. Guisewhite, 89, of Hughesville, a World War II veteran featured in a Monday Veterans Day edition of the Sun-Gazette.

“Jury service is a duty, obligation and responsibility,” Brann said, giving the women a chance to explain their actions.

Coleman said she didn’t receive notification, but court records of a telephone call placed to the house showed otherwise.

Miller said she had an ailing grandmother, when asked why she failed to appear, according to the judge.

“Clearly, there was no good reason for them not to appear,” Brann said.

“Guisewhite didn’t ask where he would be going,” he said.

Not showing up for jury duty is a violation of federal code punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or three days in jail or both.

Volunteer firefighters, medics, those in the active duty armed forces, police and firefighters and employees of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of federal and state government are able to get exemptions.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” Brann said.

That’s because notices and summons are sent ahead of the jury selection process and a follow-up call is made.

Deputy Clerk Ken Williams handles summoning the jurors. He and others offer discretion if an attempt is made at a reasonable explanation for being unable to serve.

“We don’t want people who don’t want to be on the jury,” Brann said.

Brann said he recognizes the long distances people drive to get to the court. He deliberately begins his cases at 9:30 a.m. and continues to 5 or 5:30 p.m., whenever warranted.

For civil trials, the court selects a jury of eight and for a criminal trial, 12.

It is a standard for a civil jury pool to consist of 25 to 28 people. Some cases settle on the eve of trial. Jury selection typically is done Monday morning and potential jurors may or may not be selected. The nature of the case and merits of the attorneys arguments are not provided.

“Most who are picked say they enjoyed the experience,” Brann said. “They are called to their level best to reach a fair and just verdict,” he said.

“Clearly, we can’t have this,” Brann said of inexcusable and deliberate avoidance of jury duty. “I’m hoping that sends a message for anyone else.”