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Miami—Complaints by litigants and lawyers about the increasing difficulty of empaneling enough jurors to address complex criminal and civil cases have led Florida’s top court to ask the public how to improve the state’s jury system. Besides examining juror shortages and trial scheduling problems, the Florida Supreme Court wants to hear about the experiences of jurors themselves. “We want to see if there’s something we can do to improve the conditions of jury service,” Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis said in a recent interview. On Jan. 19, Lewis will be at the Hyatt Regency in Miami to attend an unprecedented public hearing seeking input from lawyers and others about their experiences with the state’s jury system. The hearing, to run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., is sponsored by the state Supreme Court’s work group on standards for jury pool size. It will be held in conjunction with the Florida Bar’s midyear meeting. Florida’s performance at mustering jurors is dismal. Nationally, 40% of those summoned for jury duty show up at the courthouse. But only 30% answer the call in Florida, according to information from the state court administrator’s office. “I think that number surprised many people,” Lewis said of the state figure. One possibility to be considered by the court is the wider use of citations and penalties against those who don’t comply with a jury summons. The problem is most acute in Miami-Dade County. In fiscal year 2003-04, fewer than 13 of every 100 people who were summoned actually reported for jury duty. Compliance in two other Miami-area counties, Broward and Palm Beach, also was lower than the national average but was above the state average. Broward was just below 40%; Palm Beach just above 30%. The information was supplied by the counties to the state. Funding the problem Inadequate funding is at the heart of the problem. Last year, the Florida Legislature trimmed court funding for juror and witness expenses by $600,000, or about 13% from previous years. That prompted then-Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead to issue an October 2003 memo aimed at reducing costs by reducing the number of people called for jury service. To fix the juror-shortage problem, state officials are prepared to consider a number of options, including adjusting upward the number of jurors who are summoned for service every week. That could mean Floridians will receive a dreaded jury summons in the mail more often. On Nov. 30, 2004, members of the state Supreme Court work group met in Tallahassee, Fla., and considered, among other things, a possible crackdown on citizens who fail to comply with a summons for jury service without a good reason. That might entail the wider use of citations and penalties.

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