CHARLOTTE – A Mecklenburg County court official said he’s heard about every excuse imaginable for people who skip jury duty, but the county said failing to answer the call may land those people in a courtroom anyway.
Friday, a hearing was held for no-show jurors. Of the 20 people who failed to appear when called, 10 of them missed that session as well.
“It’s a very big deal,” N.C. Superior Court Judge Louis Bledsoe told those sitting before him Friday. The only way the legal rights of American citizens are fully protected, he said, “is if their fellow citizens answer the call to serve their civic duty.”
In his first juror court, a woman told Bledsoe she had shown up for jury duty and had been sent home because she had become ill. What the woman failed to mention was that she had ignored the next three jury calls. Bledsoe fined her $100 and ordered her to report for duty in a coming month.
Calvin Murphy, who ran the juror hearings for three years before Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Bledsoe to replace him this summer, said one juror tried to justify her absences with a forged note from her doctor. Another showed up to be seated at a trial but left once it began.
“If you can dream it up, I’ve heard it,” Murphy said.
Mecklenburg County started its quarterly “show-cause” hearings more than a decade ago. It’s where jurors who skip three consecutive jury sessions must meet with a judge. They can be fined $50 for each ignored summons. If they skip the show-cause order, the charge can grow into criminal contempt of court. That carries a $500 fine and up to a 30-day jail sentence.