Archived Story

Jury system in transition

Published 12:43pm Friday, July 13, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — July is a transitional period to ramp up Berrien County’s new jury system.

The State Court Administrative Office, an arm of the Michigan Supreme Court, offered several recommendations to improve court efficiency, such as scheduling all of a week’s jury trials to start on the same day and halting plea-bargaining eight days before trials start.

Berrien County commissioners last month transferred jury management responsibilities from the county clerk to the courts, which was also suggested in the report released earlier this year.

The change was effective July 2. The jury clerk’s position in Clerk Louise Stine’s office was eliminated and a similar job created in trial court.

“Under the new system,” Administration Committee Chair R. McKinley Elliott, an attorney from Buchanan, said Thursday, “the random selection process is the same, but (potential jurors) will all report to St. Joseph, regardless of whether the trial, civil or criminal, will be in St. Joseph or Niles. The jury selection process occurs in one location at one time” to make more effective use of the pool of people and require fewer to be called to serve. Criminal trials take precedence over civil matters on the docket.

The plea-deal cutoff eight days before trial eliminates situations where jury panels are summoned, then sent home when attorneys settle a case through last-minute negotiations.

“We’re trying to avoid jurors coming in unless they’re needed,” Chief Judge Alfred Butzbaugh said. “I think concerns will be resolved when they realize benefits of doing this. Change is difficult, but knowing eight days before trial is a lot better than finding out the afternoon before.”

Statute sets juror compensation at $12.50 half a day and $25 for a full day.

Berrien County reimburses travel at 55 cents a mile.

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