Last day of amnesty for jury duty dodgers

Thursday is the last day for clemency for tens of thousands of Fulton County residents who skipped jury duty last year.

May was "Jury Summons Amnesty Month," a chance for no-shows to set a new date without penalties. June could see the start of a massive crackdown on those still ducking their civic duty, with deputies knocking on doors and delivering orders to appear in court for possible contempt charges.

Contempt of court carries fines of up to $500 and 20 days in jail.

How many people fessed up, and what the judges plan to do next, is uncertain. Neither Chief Judge Cynthia Wright nor Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams – who chairs the judges' jury management committee – have returned calls during the past week.

Court Administrator Yolanda Lewis said in an e-mail that she won't release figures until Friday.

"I will say that there have been thousands of people who have actually took advantage of the opportunity to reschedule their service," she said.

Sheriff's Lt. Col. Peter Andreson said that as of May 18, the plan was still to start delivering 200 orders per week, and he expects the first batch of papers to arrive Friday.

Also uncertain is how many of the estimated 56,000 people who failed to show last year are actual scofflaws. State Court Administrator Cicely Barber, who uses the same jury pool list as Superior Court, said so many of the addresses and names have been invalid that she declined to take part in amnesty month.

Barber said she prefers to wait until the state starts compiling jury lists, under a new law, on July 1.

Fulton has been plagued by a high no-show rate for more than a decade, attributed to the county's largely urban character, with many transient residents and low-income workers who can't afford to miss work. Another factor has been a lack of punitive action, leading to a culture where jury summonses are routinely shrugged off.

Jury experts say if "amnesty month" turns out to be another bluff, it could make the problem worse.

"Then they're in worse shape than if they'd done nothing," attorney and jury consultant Denise de La Rue said.

To set things straight on a missed date, go to the seventh floor of the Fulton County Courthouse at 185 Central Ave. S.W., in downtown Atlanta, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To contact Jury Services, call 404-612-4600.