Clerk mails out 572 jury summonses in advance of changes in state law
Last week, 572 jury summonses were mailed to potential jurors in Grady County in advance of a new Georgia law that changes the way jurors are selected and which went into effect Sunday, according to Grady County Clerk of Superior Court Debbie Kines.
Mrs. Kines mailed the summonses, which cover jury service now through the end of the year, on the order of Superior Court Judge J. Kevin Chason.
Court officials have issued the jury summonses so far in advance in order to provide time to work out any problems with the new jury pool process.
Under the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, which was signed into law by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on May 3, 2011, the current forced balancing of the jury box is replaced by a statewide, inclusive juror source list established and maintained by the Council of Superior Court Clerks.
The statewide master jury list for each county was compiled using data from the Georgia Department of Driver Services and the Elections Division of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
Mrs. Kines is anticipating a “challenging transition” because of duplications of names and names of citizens exempt from jury service being added back to the list of potential jurors.
“There may be duplications, and citizens who have previously submitted age affidavits or doctor’s excuses could find their names added back into the master juror list,” Mrs. Kines said.
According to the Grady County clerk of court, it will take some time and perhaps revisions of the law and Supreme Court rules to allow for these corrections to be made to the master juror list.
Mrs. Kines said the new list contains approximately 21,000 names, of which she estimates one quarter are duplications.
She explains that this means people who have been excused from jury duty, in some cases for many years, may be added back into the jury pool until corrections to the list are made.
Until the new law went into effect, every county had appointed jury commissioners who sat down routinely to “balance the jury box.”
Until now, two jury pools were maintained. One for the grand jury and a separate one for traverse jury. Under the new law, there will be only one jury pool.
“Essentially, we will have only one jury pool consisting of persons who may be summoned for service as jurors for jury trials and grand jury,” Mrs. Kines said.
“This is a historic change because for over 200 years only the names of persons deemed by jury commissioners to be the ‘most intelligent, most experienced and most upright citizens’ of the county were placed in the grand jury pool,” she added.
The forced balancing system has been criticized for excluding potential jurors, and that demographics changed more often than information provided to jury commissioners could be updated.
House Bill 415, the Jury Reform Bill, is the culmination of a nine-year effort that began in May 2002 when 146 court system representatives met in Augusta at the Georgia Jury Summit.
Under the new law, every resident who is at least 18 years old and is a citizen of the United States and Grady County who votes or has a driver’s license or state issued identification card will be placed in the jury pool.
According to court officials, Georgia was the last remaining state in the union using “forced balancing” of jury pools.
“I ask that everyone be patient with us during this transition period. I can assure all Grady countians that my staff and I will do everything we can to rectify any problems that may occur due to the change to this new jury pool selection process,” Mrs. Kines said.
The jury summonses issued last week run through the end of the year, and Mrs. Kines said she will send out reminders to potential jurors as their reporting dates near.
The Grady County clerk of court said if a citizen was exempt from jury duty due to age or disability under the previous system, it may be necessary for new affidavits or excusals to be filed with the clerk’s office once the new jury lists are utilized.
Georgians who are 70 or older are exempt from jury duty provided an age affidavit has been filed with the court. Those suffering from medical disabilities that would prohibit them from service are also exempt provided a doctor’s statement verifying the disability is filed with the court.