Too many Texans dodge jury duty

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By Justice Jeff Brown

In mid-April, a 4-year-old boy was summoned to jury duty in Pennsylvania but was unable to go because “he has preschool that day.”  The situation was a light-hearted reminder that 1) errors do happen and 2) some potential jurors do have legitimate reasons they can’t serve. On the whole, however, jury service is a critical component of our justice system and depends on everyday citizens—those us well beyond our preschool years—showing up and to do our duty.

Recently, I received my own summons for jury service. Yes, judges can get called and serve, too. Since becoming a judge, I’ve been seated on two juries, one civil and one criminal. Each time I was reminded of why jury service is so important for all of us who care about our democracy, the rule of law, and a strong justice system.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recognizes the important of jury service, too.  He, like his predecessors, Rick Perry and George W. Bush, received a summons while in office and reported to the courthouse.  This month, Gov. Abbott proclaimed May 2-6 as “Jury Service Appreciation Week.”

In his proclamation, Abbott noted “the right to trial by a jury of our peers is a critical part of our justice system. The obligation and privilege to serve as a juror are as fundamental to our democracy as the right to vote.”

I agree. Unfortunately, in Texas, many talk the talk about the importance of jury service, but we don’t always walk the walk.

Previous surveys conducted by Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) show that a super majority of Texans (90 percent) believe jury service is important. Yet, studies by the same organization show an alarming number of folks summoned to serve – in some areas a startling 80 percent—simply don’t show up to the courthouse.  Ignoring this important duty can have day-of ramifications—after all, if a judge can’t seat a jury, the trial cannot begin. But it also bodes ill for justice in America overall.

In short, our justice system simply doesn’t work without people to serve on a jury. The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is one of the most important freedoms Americans enjoy. It’s integral to have a jury of engaged citizens to make sure that our justice system runs efficiently—the way our Founders intended.

Over the years, Texas has worked to increase juror participation rates by making jury service more convenient.  For instance, in many counties, Texans can now file our respond online when we received a summons—we can often even submit dates that better work with our schedules.  This online-empaneling process saves prospective jurors and the courts time and money.

In the end though, Texans simply need to practice what we preach, because we all lose when our jury system suffers.

Ultimately, justice depends on jurors serving in our courts and that begins with all of us reporting for service when called.  When you get served, go serve.

Justice Jeff Brown serves on the Texas Supreme Court.