Jury duty is something we must not shirk

Via The Eagle

By EDDIE LUCIO Jr.

Special to The Eagle

Texans love a tall tale, and when it comes to jury service there’s usually no shortage of stories and excuses for why people cannot serve.

Yet, it’s the right to a trial by a jury of our peers that is one of the most important freedoms all Americans enjoy. Jurors make sure that our justice system runs efficiently and how it was intended.

And, while past voter surveys suggest the vast majority of Texans — as high as 90 percent — believe that serving on a jury is important, a recent study from legal watchdogs Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has found that Texas jurors simply are not showing up to their summons.

The study looked at juror participation rates in 13 Texas counties over the past four years. The findings point to a widespread problem in Texas with low rates of participation in jury service.

In some Texas counties, the study found as many as 80 percent of those summoned for jury duty fail to show up. Most of the counties that responded to the survey showed jury participation hovering around 20 percent and 30 percent. Montgomery County, just north of Houston, reported a paltry 14 percent participation rate, and Harris County wasn’t much better at 26.54 percent — the lowest rates in the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse study.

Sadly, far too many Texans have been walking away from their jury service responsibilities.

Still, there are some bright spots. Cameron County, in each of the past four years, reported juror participation rates more than 70 percent. Certainly, at least some Texans appreciate the importance of jury service.

By returning an impartial verdict, jurors reaffirm Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a democratic America, which included the right to a trial by jury, “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” Thomas Jefferson was as right then as his words are today: Jurors improve transparency and make sure that all valid court cases receive fair and equal consideration.

Previous efforts to encourage participation, including higher rates of juror pay, aren’t solving the problem, either. Increases and cuts in juror pay do not seem to have an overall effect on juror participation in the counties surveyed. Even when jurors are paid more, those summoned still are attempting to get out of an important civil duty that’s necessary to preserve the integrity of our judicial system.

Recently, Gov. Rick Perry declared Juror Appreciation Month, urging citizens not to undervalue that right and shirk responsibility when they are called to serve.

Let’s be clear. Jury participation shouldn’t be about income, pay or excuses. Simply put, our justice system doesn’t work without people — all citizens — to serve on a jury. It’s the old saying, “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” 

No excuses. It’s time for Texans to serve.

• Eddie Lucio Jr. is the state Senator for District 27, which is composed of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg, Willacy and part of Hidalgo counties.