Don’t you try to dodge jury duty

Published 9:34 am Thursday, September 16, 2004

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS - He has probably heard more excuses than a teacher on why homework wasn't turned in.
Though Cass County Circuit Court Judge Michael E. Dodge reads the letters from those wishing to be excused from jury duty, he believes they would benefit from the experience.
After a trial, he added, many jurors realise it was an educational and worthwhile opportunity. "They did their civic duty," he said, and had "a good experience - different than what they see on television."
For 15 years Dodge let the lawyers ask the potential jurors questions. Not he does the questioning himself. "They (the lawyers) used it to argue their cases," Dodge said. "They talked for 10 minutes with no questions. That is not what a jury of their peers was set up to do."
Dodge showed the DAR women the first juror qualification questionaire which is sent out after a very random selection which even he is unable to explain clearly.
First the three-member commission board, which he recommends and the Cass County Commissioners approve, meet each May to begin the juror selection process, continuing to meet over the next few months.
No more than two can be from me same political party. Presently the board with their expiration dates, include Republicans Ardith Higley (2005) and Louise Cox (2009), and Democrat Jackie Goodman (2007).
Using driver license and social security numbers, and counting backwards and forwards a number of times, names are chosen to be sent the first questionaire by the clerk's office.
If you ignore that letter and do not respond - you could be held in contempt of court. You are required to answer within 10 days.
Basically the questions ask whether you are over 18, a citizen, speak and understand English, are physically or mentally able to be a juror, and whether you have ever been convicted of a felony.
Those over 70, do not have to serve on a jury, unless they want to.
About 5,000 of those letters are sent out every year and the number of potential jurors, for both circuit and probate, eventually develops into about 2,500 names. These people fill out another form, saying whether they have ever been in an accident, or have relatives who are in law enforcement.
Even a former felon can serve, but only if not presently under sentence. If you have received a payment as a juror in the last 12 months, you are also ineligible.
Dodge's own brother, he said, thought he would be excused from being on a jury in another county, but that judge ruled it wasn't a conflict.
Dodge's eldest son was called, but like many who show up in the morning, was excused without ever being called into the jury box.
Dodge chooses 12 jurors and a couple of alternates. Up until the final decision or guilt and innocence, he might just need someone to fill it so the number remains at 12. "Even in short trials," Dodge added, a juror might "not come back after lunch."
Dodge has about four panels of 25 people he can choose from each month. For Circuit Court cases, 12 jurors are used, but for Judge Susan Dobrich in Probate Court, six sit on the jury.
Lawyers do get a chance to refuse a juror, even though no reason is present. Dodge allows five for each lawyer. For capital cases, where the maximum can be life, 12 are allowed.
After the trial, Dodge sometimes instructs the jurors why previous convictions were not mentioned. The person on trial is "presumed innocent until proven guilty," Dodge said. "They must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. They need to have an open mind and judge fairly."
A "hung jury" is when they can't get all 12 to agree. The judge then would declare a mistrial and the process would be repeated with a new set of jurors. "We hope that doesn't happen. We want a decision."
Jurors are paid mileage and $25 per day and half that if excused at the end of the morning.
Smiling when someone mentioned the weekend win of the Notre Dame football team, Dodge said both his sons, who are graduates of Edwardsburg High School, are now attending the University, where he received his law training.
Dodge was in the U.S. Army from 1969-1971 and the first full-time prosecutor for the county in 1973. He was Probate Judge in 1977, and became the Circuit Judge in 1977.
Having a judge speak went along with Constitution Week, Sept. 17-23. A special display on the Constitution was set up by DAR member Margaret Hunter, in the showcase at the Main Branch of the Cass District Library.