Few people jump for joy when a jury summons arrives in the mail. That’s why it’s called jury duty — duty being something we answer because we have to, not really because we want to.
Perhaps the only consolation from such civic service is the knowledge that our fellow citizens are in the same boat with us.
Or at least they’re supposed to. In East Baton Rouge Parish this week, the official in charge of the local jury pool admitted that a large portion of parish residents, including those who are newcomers or under the age of 26, have been left out of jury pool, a lapse that apparently originated in 2011.
Ann McCrory, the judicial administrator in East Baton Rouge Parish, acknowledged on the witness stand Wednesday that the buck stops with her.
Defense lawyers in a criminal trial for accused cop-killer Grover Cannon noticed the lack of young faces in the jury pool, and their research showed the fluke extended back years. The lawyers questioned during a court hearing whether such a jury pool truly represents a cross-section of the community, which prompted Ann McCrory, the judicial administrator, to fess up.
She said a computer glitch caused young residents and parish newcomers to be improperly excluded from jury duty.
Cannon’s case was moved from Caddo Parish to Baton Rouge because of pre-trial publicity, but it’s set to move back to Shreveport once a jury is selected.
Social theorists constantly lament a decline in civic engagement across the country, a malady that underscores the importance of getting more young people involved in the work of government. For more than half a decade, it now appears, the 19th Judicial District Court wasn’t giving younger adults the chance to fulfill one of the most basic obligations of citizenship — rendering judgment on their peers at the courthouse.
McCrory suggested that the snafu was caused by an outside firm hired to help manage the jury pool, but one must wonder why the absence of young jurors wasn’t caught sooner.
Revelations about the botched jury pool have caused delays in jury selection while defense lawyers argued that the botched selection process was tainted.
In the court of public opinion, though, we assume that the verdict’s already in. This fiasco isn’t going to assure anyone that the people in charge of filling the jury box really know what they’re doing.