Low response to jury summons concerns Muscogee County’s chief judge

Local News

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — After a yearlong COVID timeout, jury trials resumed nearly two months ago in Muscogee County.

But there has been a little hiccup.

People who receive jury summons are not showing up in the numbers Chief Judge Gil McBride would like – or the system needs to work smoothly.

Each week 200 to 300 people are receiving summons to report to jury duty in Muscogee County.

Two weeks last month, less than 20 percent of those summoned to jury duty reported.

If this continues, McBride is concerned it will gum up a system that is working to find a new normal while operating in a pandemic.

“We need consistent reporting by people who are summoned for jury duty,” McBride said. “We have had a good week this week, but the last two weeks before then we had in the teens in terms of the people who were summoned who were actually reporting.”

This week about 50 percent of those summoned showed up, but there has not been a jury trial.

That’s the problem, McBride says because there may not be enough potential jurors for felony criminal cases if this trend continues.

There have been three cases go to trial since juries were put back to work in Muscogee County. That pace is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

They are not ready to go get no-shows, but if you don’t honor the summons, you are taking a risk.

“Potentially, the sheriff could show up at your door and give you a ride to the courthouse. Obviously, that is not something that’s ideal or our default position,” McBride said. “It is something that’s in fact rare. … We do need people to honor the summons.”

They need a large pool to select from, McBride said.

“A lot of jurors are going to have some conflicts,” he said. “They are going to have some knowledge of the case; they are going to have a statutory exemption. So, it really hard to seat a jury in most felony cases with fewer than 50 people in a panel.”

Because of COVID restrictions prospective jurors are reporting to the Civic Center Ice Rink with jury selection in Civic Center. Superior Court trials are taking place in Government Center courtrooms.

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