By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
Last week, some 150 people lined up outside the Osceola County Courthouse early Monday morning for jury duty after receiving their summonses only a few days prior.
A jury summons is an official court order and typically is mailed out four to five weeks before a resident’s report date. A software glitch within the 9th Circuit Court system – which covers Osceola and Orange counties – and caused the problem and has since been fixed. It arose from an outside vendor contracted by the 9th Circuit and the printing company it uses to send out the notices.
“We put in stop-gap measures so that this never happens again,” said 9th Circuit spokeswoman Karen Levy.
Court staff worked throughout the weekend to answer questions from would-be jurors and to help those who needed to reschedule. Those who did not appear Monday or reschedule over the weekend were not penalized. Still, despite the last-minute notice, most folks who were summoned showed up to fulfill their civic duty to thankful court employees.
“Everyone seemed appreciative that we appreciate them,” Levy said.
Jury duty is essential to making sure trials have a panel of unbiased citizens to decide cases. The right to a jury trial is outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Not everyone who is summoned for jury duty will be selected to serve on a jury. Every case before the court is unique, but most trials last from one to two days. Rare are prolonged – often high-profile – criminal trials. Summonses are sent out based on Florida identification and driver license information. Yes, those with jobs do have to take time off from work. Larger employees, such as Disney World and local government offices, pay employees their salary or wages for the day they are summoned for jury duty. Otherwise, jurors are paid $15 dollars per day for first three days and $30 per day thereafter.
While some people might consider jury duty a chore, the court tries to make the wait as convenient and comfortable as possible. Free Wi-Fi, games, cable TV, vending machines and charging stations for phones and computers are provided. Jurors also are allowed to bring their own food, books and other things to keep them occupied while waiting.
“Why do people get annoyed for jury duty? You get to do the same things you do at home: Eat, sleep and get on social media,” read a message to the court from one of the 150 called to court last week.
Jurors can request a one-time automatic postponement online through the court. In the case that a someone forgets to show up or has a medical emergency, they can reschedule within a month to avoid penalties.
“We try to be as accommodating to jurors as possible,” Levy said.
For more information, go to www.ninthcircuit.org/jurors/jury-service-osceola.