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The jury is in: Allen County residents step up to serve

The pay is not great, $40 a day if you are impaneled for a trial, and $15 if you show up but aren’t impaneled. But people here appear to take jury duty pretty seriously. And now local courts are using technology to ease inconveniences associated with serving.

So far in 2013, the Allen County Circuit and Superior Courts issued 17,585 summonses for jury duty.

Twenty-seven of the letters were undeliverable, and about 3,000 of those who responded were excused or deferred for valid reasons.

Only 221, just more than 1 percent of those who were asked to serve, failed to appear. Almost 99 percent of those summoned, and not excused or deferred, served: 14,434 people this year, as of Thursday.

“That is an astonishingly high number,” said Superior Court Judge Fran Gull., who heads the Jury Committee of the Indiana Judicial Conference.

Gull attributed the high participation to the fact that “Allen County is a leader in the state, and nationally, in the area of jury reform.”

More than a year ago, the courts began sending prospective jurors information to allow them to text questions and receive answers about service. A few months later, the county added a code for smartphones to take those who are summoned to a website.

“It’s been remarkably successful,” Gull said. The courts are working on a way to allow potential jurors to use the Web to see whether their trial is a “go” that day. For now, a phone call is the only way to do that.

If you are a resident of Allen County, older than 18 and younger than 75, your name is already in the “jury wheel” for selection, and if you’re called, it’s your duty as a U.S. citizen to serve. “It’s totally random,” said Gull, though she has heard the common complaint that some people never get summoned and others serve more than their share.

“The list is randomly shuffled,” she said. Trial or no trial, those who answer the call can’t be summoned again for two years. But “it does happen that some people do seem to fly to the top of the list.”

The law also protects you from being penalized by your employer for missing work, which is why authorities are investigating an allegation that a man was fired from his job while serving as an alternate juror in a trial last month.

That kind of alleged interference “directly impacts the people who come in and do their civic duty,” Gull said.

Occasionally, too, a judge has to get tough with someone who refuses to serve.

“A woman some years ago had to answer contempt of court,” Gull said. A doctor, “she thought she was too important.”

“She was appropriately chastened and was appropriately remorseful” and the contempt charge was dropped.

But clearly, most of those who are summoned answer the call.

“Most people have a tremendous amount of trepidation because they don’t know what to expect,” Gull said, and some of the cases, especially those involving violence or children, can be difficult. But often, jurors later tell Gull that they’ve found the process fulfilling and rewarding.

Indeed, amid the community’s challenges and problems, here is a success story for both the court system and the citizens it depends on.

The one thing you can’t do is apply to serve on a jury. But when your turn comes, rest assured you are in good company: 14,434 other good citizens, and counting.