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About 10 percent of San Franciscans summoned for jury duty in the first half of the year failed to show up. That’s good, compared to Alameda County, which had a 19 percent absentee rate for the third quarter, but bad compared to San Mateo County, where only 4 percent of those summoned during the first six months of 2002 fail to show up. But San Francisco’s rate is an improvement. The failure-to-appear rate in the city was 13 percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 2000, said Deputy Jury Commissioner Jeannie Smith. Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer attributes the improvement to the one-day, one-trial system adopted by the city in 2000. The one-day, one-trial system, which replaced a system where prospective jurors spent a two-week period of being on call, has made jury duty more palatable. “It has probably reduced the number of no-shows, because you’re not faced with a prolonged sitting around for a week or two,” Kramer said. Thomas Munsterman, a consultant with the National Center for State Courts, said San Francisco’s 10 percent no-show rate is “pretty good” for a major city. In Washington, D.C., for example, fewer than 20 percent even answered jury summonses in 2001, according to the Washington Post. In Phoenix in 2001, 81 percent of the summonses were ignored, and in Philadelphia during 2000, four out of five jury notices sent out had no responses, according to the Associated Press. In the District of Columbia, a judge last year had eight people arrested and jailed — one overnight — for failing to show up for jury duty, according to the Post. But San Francisco has no system for finding scofflaw jurors. “We don’t have a way of tracking [them] after we send out the notice telling them to contact us,” Smith said. Nor are court bailiffs empowered to chase down absent jurors. “There is no system where the courts hand us a list of people who don’t show up and say, ‘Go find these people,’” said Eileen Hirst, chief of staff for Sheriff Mike Hennessey. Hirst said a judge can issue a body attachment, which is similar to a bench warrant, for a juror, but that rarely happens. “The last time was about two years ago, when an empaneled juror refused to show up and we brought him into court,” she said. “It’s certainly not the norm.” San Francisco Presiding Judge Ronald Quidachay said once when a reluctant juror refused to show up, he threatened the man with arrest if he didn’t come in. “I told him you have a choice of five days in jail and a fine, or to be on-call [for jury duty] one day,” Quidachay said. The man chose jury duty. Munsterman said the key to a high response rate is keeping juror lists up to date. By purging the lists of the deceased and people not qualified to serve, such as felons, the courts can expect a higher percentage of people responding to summonses, he said. More than half — 54 percent — of the San Franciscans summoned for jury duty escape service by being excused or having their service postponed. Postponement is only temporary escape, however, since the person remains in the jury pool for summoning at a later date. Deputy jury commissioner Smith said excuses are given to non-citizens, non-residents, felons, cops and those with genuine financial hardships. Postponements are granted to those with already-paid-for vacation plans, students, those with medical needs, women who are breastfeeding and the self-employed. In Alameda County, where there was a 19 percent failure-to-appear rate, nearly one-third of the summonses were “undeliverable,” according to Zakiya Hooker-Bell, the jury services manager. Mel Toomer, deputy executive officer for the San Mateo County Superior Court, speculated that his county’s 96 percent response rate to summonses may be because residents there are more affluent and can afford it.

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