A potential juror who traveled to the Dominican Republic on business instead of returning to Fulton County court has been ordered to write a 30-page essay on the importance of jury service.
Juror No. 64 appeared before Chief Judge Ural Glanville on Thursday morning alongside her attorney, Dwight Thomas.
The woman explained that after coming to the courthouse last week, she tried to alert jury services about her plans and emailed a copy of her travel itinerary. When she didn’t show up on Monday, Glanville sent Fulton deputies to her grandmother’s home to search for her.
“I didn’t really know I was in violation until the sheriff showed up,” the woman told the judge. “I thought I was following directions.”
The juror told Glanville she travels frequently for work and didn’t see her summons until late December. Jury summons were mailed out to Fulton County residents in late November for the RICO trial involving rapper Young Thug and more than a dozen alleged “Young Slime Life” gang members.
Glanville found the juror in contempt for failure to appear for mandatory jury services, according to court documents. A contempt of court charge carries a sentence of up to 20 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. To “purge herself of this contempt,” Glanville ordered her to write the essay with a focus on the history of jury service in Georgia, according to court documents.
“Years ago, people who looked like us couldn’t serve on juries,” Glanville told the woman; both are Black. “It was prohibited.”
The essay must be written in APA style, mostly used for academic documents, with 10 primary sources and 10 secondary sources, the judge ruled. It will also be run through a plagiarism-checking software.
The essay is due in three weeks and the woman was ordered back to court on Feb. 13 to discuss it with the judge. Failure to comply may result in further sanctions, according to the order signed by Glanville. She is otherwise excused from jury duty for the moment.
It’s not the first time a Fulton juror has had to write a essay as punishment. During the Atlanta Public Schools test cheating trial, a juror who lived in Roswell didn’t show up for court one day in 2013.
Judge Jerry Baxter had everyone wait until the juror was summoned. The juror said he’d overslept. Baxter told him not to let it happen again and the trial resumed. The very next morning, the juror overslept again.
Baxter brought him to court again and told him to write an essay about citizenship and the importance of jury service. When you come to court tomorrow, the judge said then, bring the essay and a toothbrush, suggesting a night in jail could result if the juror didn’t comply.
The next day, the juror brought both, and his essay passed the judge’s test.
No. 64 is not the only juror whose actions have become an issue this time. She and No. 453 came downtown last week as instructed to watch a four-hour reading of the indictment but failed to show when their respective jury panels were told to come back and complete questionnaires
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
No. 453 told court officials, who called Wednesday about her whereabouts, that she had left the country.
“Send somebody to find her, please,” Glanville, who served in the Army Reserves and holds the rank of Brigadier General, instructed a deputy. The woman later returned to fill out her jury questionnaire and was excused from service because she looks after a sick relative.
Jury consultant Jill Huntley Taylor, who is not involved in the YSL case, said sometimes people don’t understand the process or don’t feel comfortable noting prior engagements.
“Maybe someone had a preplanned trip and just didn’t realize that they should say something,” she said. “There are some innocent things that happen with jurors that result in these kinds of situations. But you can’t just not show up if you don’t want to.”
Several jurors with prepaid travel plans have already been excused.
Taylor said there are likely plenty of people who received summonses in this case but didn’t bother coming at all.
Those who made an effort might get the benefit of the doubt, she said, but that’s entirely up to the judge.
“I think judges can be quite reasonable in a situation like this with that many jurors,” she said. “It could be an innocent mistake or a simple misunderstanding.”
Georgia law allows some to be excused for jury duty: those age 70 or up; those who have permanent mental or physical disabilities; convicted felons whose rights have not been restored; caregivers for children younger than 6 or sole caregivers for children older than 6; homeschool teachers and full time student taking 12 or more credit hours.
An exemption form must be filled out and notarized. Those who are not residents of Fulton County or United States citizens at the time of service must provide documentation to be exempted from jury duty.
A one-time deferral of jury service to a different date may be granted if those who receive a summons and can’t make jury duty for reasons other than the approved exemptions call or email Fulton County jury services, according to the court’s website.
Jury selection is off to a slow start in the YSL case, and the vast majority of those summoned have already asked for hardship exemptions. Glanville expects the trial will last six to nine months with 14 defendants being tried simultaneously and hundreds of witnesses expected to be called.
Many of the potential jurors questioned so far have said they could lose their livelihoods or homes if required to miss nearly a year of work. Jurors are paid $25 a day, but not until the completion of their service.
“If I don’t work, I don’t make money. I can’t support my daughter and I can’t pay my bills,” a single mother who works three jobs told Glanville. “I certainly can’t do it for $25 a day.”
She was among dozens excused from jury service this week.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com