The switchover to a new statewide jury pool system swelled the ranks of potential jurors summoned to Fulton County on Monday, causing them to spill out of the assembly room into the hallway and an empty courtroom.
A month ago, Fulton court officials using the state’s new jury pool list had summoned 2,000 people — twice the usual amount — to appear Monday because they had expected a larger number of no-shows, said Superior Court Administrator Yolanda Lewis.
About 300 people were allowed deferrals or were excused because of legal exemptions. Of the 1,700 remaining eligible jurors summoned, about 600 actually showed up for jury duty Monday, Lewis said.
They had to stand in a line outside that stretched for several blocks. The courthouse usually opens at 8:30 a.m. but jurors said deputies started letting people in early around 7:30. Once inside, jurors said they got through security in 15 to 30 minutes – although some said it took as long as an hour.
“I’ve never seen a line that long to get into a courthouse,” said Xaviera Clark of southeast Atlanta. “I would have rather been at work. We had to stand outside in the rain.”
Many residents kept a stiff upper lip until they were released about noon and considered the ordeal a price of citizenship. They said county officials apologized for the inconvenience and kept them updated throughout the morning.
“We did our civic duty,” said Darlene Chatham, of Sandy Springs, with a smile. “You had to wait forever but they kept updating us. They were very accommodating.”
Lewis, the court administrator, was encouraged by the turnout since the county has had an ongoing problem with potential jurors failing to appear. Fulton has been cracking down on absentees in recent months to combat a no-show rate that had risen as high as 50 percent at times — far higher than the national rate of 9 percent — even though disregarding a summons can result in a $500 fine and 20 days in jail.
Now that the court has a better idea of what kind of turnout it can expect with the new jury pool list, Lewis said fewer people will need to be called for jury duty tomorrow and in coming days.
“To be honest with you, we’re very happy people did show up today,” Lewis said. “It gives us some hope that a lot of the things we’re doing here are working.”
Twice the usual number of summonses went out because court officials anticipated a lower response rate from the new statewide jury pool system, which replaced the old county-managed system on July 1. Fulton County and several other metro Atlanta counties built in delays of several months to allow more time for the transition.
Cobb County Superior Court Administrator Tom Charron said jurors there started receiving summonses based on the new statewide list a few weeks ago. Those jurors will start coming to court in the next two or three weeks. However, Charron was more concerned about having too few people, rather than too many, show up for jury duty.
The county-managed jury pools relied mainly on voter-registration lists. The new statewide list brought hundreds of thousands of potential jurors into the fold by including the entire driver’s license database.
Jury administrators expected fewer responses because the driver’s license database includes non-citizens who aren’t eligible to serve. The driver’s license database is also less accurate because many people don’t update their address when they move.
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