NORRISTOWN — More than four dozen Montgomery County residents learned the hard way that a request to report for jury duty is not “an invitation — it is a summons” and should be taken seriously.
A total of 57 people were ordered to appear before Montgomery County Judge Garrett D. Page on Friday for juror contempt hearings to explain why they ignored summonses to report for jury duty between September 2018 and April 2019.
“The people that we brought in missed jury duty at least two, some maybe three or four times, and were given many chances and we received no responses. That’s how they end up on the juror contempt list,” explained Marge Cesare, first deputy of the county jury board.
Thirty-two of the 57 accused juror scofflaws didn’t even show up for Friday’s hearings and Page issued bench warrants against them. Three others were excused from appearing for cause, including medical reasons.
More than four dozen #MontcoPa residents learned the hard way that a request to report for jury duty is not “an invitation, it is a summons” and should be taken seriously. They were ordered to appear before a judge.— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) May 17, 2019
Those who don’t satisfy the bench warrants risk being taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies to be physically brought before a judge.
Of the 22 people who did show up for their hearings, 17 admitted that they “willfully disobeyed” a jury summons and were fined $50. They also got a new date to report for jury duty.
Page warned the residents that if they don’t show up for their new jury duty report dates the fines will range between $200 and $500.
“This is important stuff. You can’t disobey a court order to appear for jury duty,” Page said. “Not everything is a hardship. You still have to show.”
Five county residents demanded full-fledged contempt hearings.
A total of 57 people were ordered to appear before #MontcoPa Judge Garrett D. Page on Friday for juror contempt hearings to explain why they ignored summonses to report for jury duty between September 2018 and April 2019.Story coming @MercuryX @TimesHeraldPA @LansReporter— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) May 17, 2019
When the judge asked one Horsham woman why she ignored two jury summonses to appear she responded, “My mail gets stolen all the time. I didn’t get it.” Judge Page said without evidence to support her claim, the presumption was that the summonses were received and he fined the woman $100.
“It’s unfair,” the woman said as she left the courtroom, tears welling in her eyes.
Once the residents pay their fines, the contempt rulings are cleared from their records.
Four others also were found in contempt and were fined between $100 and $200.
One truck driver said he was in Boston on a delivery run but admitted he never called the jury board to explain his absence. Another man told the judge he didn’t believe he spoke English well enough to be on a jury but the judge pointed out the man was clearly conversing in the courtroom on Friday.
Cesare and Liz Gerstein, a jury marshalling assistant, said officials will work with residents who have legitimate excuses as to why they can’t appear. But residents need to call the jury board to address a summons and not just ignore it.
“They can pick a second date. We’re flexible,” Gerstein said. “If you have a problem when you first get the notice call us and let us know what’s going on, don’t just ignore it.”
“If they have a legitimate excuse we try to work with them. We’re not out to get them,” Cesare added.
The two elected jury commissioners, Merry Woods and Joanne Olszewski, also were present in court for the hearings.
Officials hope to hold contempt hearings every six months for those who ignore summonses.
Cesare said the message to county residents is clear.
“This is not an invitation, it is a summons,” Cesare said.