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A jury shortage cited as a public safety crisis in Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, is the result of specific jury pool laws, some of which are slated to change soon. While most states summon jurors every year or two, current Massachusetts law exempts jurors from serving again for three calendar years after summons. Legislation in the Massachusetts Senate, which was presented without opposition at a public legislative hearing last month, would remove the word “calendar” from the rule and strike out the phrase “as of the date of receipt of summons.” Because jurors must also be summoned three months before jury service, the courts could now summon jurors three months prior to the date they had served three years ago, instead of waiting to summon on that date. Though three years is still on the longer side of national jury-hold periods, Nebraska and Maine both have laws preventing courts from summoning citizens for a full five years after service, said G. Thomas Munsterman, the director emeritus for the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts. A temporary solution? But if Suffolk County keeps the old three-calendar-year rule, the courts will run out of jurors by early November, Jury Commissioner Pamela J. Wood said. The new legislation will increase the pool by up to 20,000 a year. Other Massachusetts counties haven’t experienced a shortage in available jurors. “We are the largest urban area in the state. This is a problem in urban areas,” Wood said. The shortage may also be due to larger groups of noncitizens, transient student populations and the opening of two new jury courts, which increased the county’s weekly demand for jurors, she said. The state attorney general’s office has expressed concern that this may be only a temporary solution to the shortage. “We were hoping for something more lasting and more fair,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the attorney general. “Suffolk County jurors are already called on more than any other county.” Wark suggested reaching out beyond the county line to find prospective jurors. Senator Robert S. Creedon, the sponsor of the legislation, said further shortening the hold time or more aggressively penalizing jurors who skip duty could prevent future jury shortages. The current maximum fine is $2,000. Creedon said he may attempt to amend the law to include jail time for skipping jury service. Munsterman said no true juror shortage ever occurs. “There are ways,” he said. “If worse comes to worse, you go out on the streets and get people.” Wood said that Los Angeles County, which has a larger population than the entire state of Massachusetts, fixed a jury shortage by bussing in citizens from outside the county. New York County, which is coextensive with the New York City borough of Manhattan, lifted exemptions for professionals in 1996 to increase the jury pool, said Vincent Homenick, chief clerk of the jury division for Manhattan courts. “We had a bit of a resurgence after that,” he said. But the county experienced another juror shortage three years ago due to a problem accessing the jury list and was forced to call jurors back before the statutory period, similar to Suffolk County. In Massachusetts, a joint Senate and House committee will meet at the next executive session, which has not yet been scheduled, to decide what recommendations to make to the full House and Senate. Creedon said he would try to push the bill through the Senate, while state Representative Eugene O’Flaherty will present it to the House. If the votes go favorably, the bill will be slated for a second reading, when it will be open for debate and amendments. Eventually, the bill will go to the governor for signing. It would then go into effect in 90 days. Creedon is planning to attach an emergency preamble, allowing the bill to become the law upon gubernatorial signature, instead of after 90 days. Wood said she is confident that the passing of this bill will solve the shortage.

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