Crime & Courts

Judges see things from the jurors’ side

The jury check-in area and jury assembly room on the first floor of the Sedgwick County Courthouse. (Aug. 4, 2015)
The jury check-in area and jury assembly room on the first floor of the Sedgwick County Courthouse. (Aug. 4, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Judges say they understand why most people called for jury service groan when they see a summons letter in their mailboxes. It’s hard for people to justify taking time off from work or for stay-at-home parents to find alternative baby-sitting arrangements.

Sometimes, it’s a financial strain.

Terry Pullman is one of the Sedgwick County District Court judges who has been summoned recently for jury duty in his own courthouse at 525 N. Main in Wichita.

Usually, he spends his days presiding over criminal cases on the sixth floor.

But a few months ago, he was the same as the rest of the citizens sitting down in the jury room who were missing work or family time.

And waiting.

“It was the epitome of frustration, because I never got out of the jury room,” Pullman said, recalling the experience. “You know, they rounded us up into a (jury) panel and then we’d sit for a while, and then the case would be disposed of or continued or taken care of in some way.

“So I never got ... into a courtroom. Nor did a bunch of other jurors that I was in the same grouping with. And then we were dismissed.”

District Judge Jeff Goering, another criminal court judge, fared better when he was summoned a few years ago.

He was chosen to sit on a jury during a criminal trial – something he said he’s wanted to do his entire law career.

“I was a little surprised when I made the cut, because I’d anticipated I would go through all of this process and, you know, I’d get kicked off,” he said.

He said serving on a jury was not only interesting, it also gave him a look at what jurors need when they are stuck in a courtroom or in deliberations for long periods of time.

It “gives you a different perspective about how your staff interacts with the jurors and what can we do to make jury service a little more comfortable,” Goering said.

“It’s one thing to just think about it in the abstract. It’s another thing to go through it, down to is the coffee made and do you have soft drinks available.”

Work and family obligations rarely get people excused from jury service, according to judges and jury clerks.

But they want jurors to know they are thankful for their time.

“We absolutely realize that just showing up in response to a jury summons, let alone going through the jury selection process or sitting as a juror, is going to be an inconvenience for everybody. And probably a hardship for some of them,” Pullman said.

“But, quite honestly, unless we have people willing to do that, our system doesn’t work.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amyreneeleiker.

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