No drastic jury duty tactics here

If you were a little alarmed by the Associated Press story in Saturday's paper about the extreme measures being used to get people to serve on juries, relax. So far, local courts haven't had any trouble assembling enough potential jurors.

But if you take that news as justification for tossing out the jury summons you just got in the mail, think again.

Like it or not — and many citizens like it not at all — jury service is not optional. It is one of few obligations — paying taxes is another — that our government requires of us. Even military service is no longer compulsory.

Still, many Americans go out of their way to avoid serving. That's unfortunate — and it deprives those who shirk jury duty from fulfilling one of the most important functions in a democracy based on the rule of law.

As Saturday's story explained, some jurisdictions around the country have gone so far as to dispatch sheriff's deputies to summon jurors in person. In one North Carolina community, the summons required the person served to appear within the hour for jury duty.

In Oregon, names of potential jurors are drawn at random from the lists of registered voters and licensed drivers. So failing to register to vote won't get you off the hook.

Service is limited to one week and is not arduous in most cases. After appearing for orientation, members of that week's pool call a recorded message each evening to find out if they are required to appear the next day.

One of the biggest obstacles for many citizens is financial. Oregon law does not require employers to pay workers while they serve, and the court stipend of $10 a day hardly makes up for lost wages.

Many employers do pay workers who serve, as they should. Those who don't frequently are small employers, or self-employed individuals who earn nothing if they don't work.

Some states exempt doctors, firefighters and police officers; Oregon does not. But there is an exception available for key professions and for the self-employed. A "one-day service" exception allows the individual to report once for duty, and if not seated on a jury, depart with the obligation completed.

The bottom line is that citizens are obligated to serve when called, and the courts reserve the power to hold in contempt and even jail those who refuse. Fortunately it rarely comes to that. Nor should it.

We are all fortunate to live in a country with a Constitution that guarantees us equal protection under the law and the right to a trial by a jury of our peers. It's only fair that each of us willingly appears to serve on such a jury when our name comes up.

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