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Random Thoughts: All rise for the judge

November 29, 2013

Another one of those letters in the mailbox. That's three in the same household getting put on notice in the last five months. A quick glance at the return address tells the story.

So what if it says it's from the Jefferson County Jury Commissioners.
If you can get your jitters under control with the "why me" syndrome, you should see it as a great opportunity to be a responsible citizen.

Some 175 county residents are called for each session, and from that pool only 12 actual jurors are selected, along with two alternates. So, what are the odds that you have to serve?

No need to worry that jury duty will interfere with your late summer vacation or the Christmas holidays. The court takes its own time off in both August and December. Yip, but that leaves ten other months to get caught, you say.

Just stop here for a moment. Ponder on this: why do we always want to be good citizens until it begins to inconvenience us?

There is a "hold your breath" phone call to make that will tell you if you have to report to the third floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Brookville. To your relief, the message could tell you that no jurors need to report. Off the hook this time. Oh, but what about next time?

Folks, there certainly could be a next time, because if you are not needed this time or you serve less than three days on a case, then that next time comes in one year.

Three years will go by if you have served on a case for three days or more, which is a rarity in Jefferson County.

Now you're asking how they collared you in the first place? You're home free if you don't vote or have a license to drive. Names are gleaned from voter registration records and drivers listed with the state's Department of Transportation.

These names then are "scrubbed" by the Administration of Pennsylvania Courts which, in essence, means several people take a look at the prospective juror names to see if those persons fit the criteria for serving.

If so, you get a letter, and your recorded phone message might tell you all jurors are to report.

Too nervous to take the elevator, you walk up three flights of marble steps into this large room. Those wooden benches look hard. Oh, boy, there really is a judge sitting up front.

If you do get picked for jury duty, the jurors' chairs to the judge's left look a bit more comfortable.

Two round tables in front of the judge, one for the defense and one for the prosecution. Lots of portraits of judges to view while you wait. Questions back and forth between those two tables. Maybe a question or two right to you.

Excused or not excused. It might all depend on that questionnaire you filled out and had to send back.

To digress a bit. There is a person who will sign you into the courtroom. That is the tipstaff. Jefferson County court has three such people who are the "go-betweens" and help keep the court in order. In the old English courtrooms, these folks actually carried a staff tipped with metal. They were called the criers of the law.

In August of last year, Jefferson County's presiding judge, the Honorable John H. Foradora, inaugurated a criminal pre-trial conference that enables the district attorney and trial defense attorneys to expound on potential jury cases. Not only has this procedure saved the county money but, more importantly, saved time in not needing to impanel a jury.

Earlier this month, prospective jurors were called to Brookville for a grand jury process. For this, some 200 people from nine counties were questioned by Judge Norman A. Krumnacker of Cambria County. If you made it to this panel, it would have involved upwards to two years of your time going to court every month for a week. Now that's really doing your duty.

As of the end of 2013, there will be no more Jefferson County Jury Commissioners. The state's Supreme Court recently gave each county the option to abolish that title. Jurors now will be selected by those in the county's administrative office.

The integrity of this piece is due to some very knowledgeable and downright nice people at the county's administrative office: Chad Weaver, District Court Administrator; Kathy Sherman, Assistant Court Administrator and Karen Long, the judge's secretary.

A good teaser for this month. John H. Foradora is now Jefferson County's presiding judge but who were the two judges of Jefferson County before him?

Yes, I know, you want the answer to last month as to what was originally called the "Pluto Platter." Bet your household has one. It's that round disk called a Frisbee.

Did you know any of this? Well, now you do.

Roberta Dinsmore can be reached at randomrmd@yahoo.com.

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