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Jury duty dodgers get chance to atone at Jamaica court hearing

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Youngking11

Throwing out a jury duty summons cost some Queens residents time out of their schedules — and potentially money out of their pockets.

Forty individuals appeared at a special court hearing in Jamaica Wednesday morning to answer to summonses sent by the Queens County Clerk’s office for repeatedly shirking their jury duty responsibilities.

Judicial Hearing Officer Sidney Strauss, who previously served 14 years on the bench as a Queens County judge, required each individual to select, and then appear on a certain date to begin jury duty service, or face a $250 lien.

This was the first hearing of its kind in Queens, according to Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer. Summonses were sent to about 100 jury duty scofflaws; those who did not appear at Wednesday’s hearing will be summonsed again to appear at a future hearing or be hit with an immediate $250 lien.

Since becoming county clerk in 2011, Pheffer has traveled across the borough, meeting with civic groups and community organizations in an effort to convince Queens residents to comply with jury duty service. This includes returning completed questionnaires that the clerk’s office mails out in advance of jury duty summonses.

With more than 2.3 million residents of an wide array of ethnic backgrounds, Pheffer said, having a large and diverse jury pool is critical to keeping the justice system fair. Judge Strauss reiterated those points in Wednesday’s hearing, she noted.

“We have 100,000 people in our pool” every year, Pheffer told The Courier in an exclusive interview. “When we call, most of them come, and they shouldn’t be penalized for their service. We’re hoping that, with the threat of a [financial] penalty if you don’t show, more people will show.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Pheffer said, many of the respondents appeared frightened, but Strauss indicated the court did not intend to frighten anyone — but, rather, compel each of them to fulfill their civic obligations.

A similar hearing will be scheduled later in the summer, Pfeffer added.

Each potential juror is asked to complete and return a questionnaire prior to selection for jury duty. The questionnaire asks if the person is a citizen, over 18 years of age, lives in Queens and if they have ever been convicted of a felony.

When called, each juror will receive a summons asking them to serve as a telephone standby juror and, on a specific date, to begin calling the designated phone number to find out if they must report to court. Jurors have several weeks to officially request a postponement of service.

Once ordered to report to court, a juror will be assigned to report to the central jury rooms at either the Criminal Court in Kew Gardens, the Civil Court in Jamaica or the Long Island City courthouse. Service typically lasts one to two days, depending on the court’s needs; only those selected to participate in trials will be required to extend their service to the court.

Click here for more information on jury service in New York.

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