As some jury trials resume, juror shortages create problems; one court sees a 5% yield on summonses

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As jury trials resume in several states and continue in others, finding jurors willing to show up is a problem.

Bloomberg Law reports on the issue, which could lead to increased backlogs in courts that shut down in-person appearances because of COVID-19.

Top state courts in Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina and Massachusetts have lifted suspension on jury trials, according to information from the National Center for State Courts cited by Bloomberg Law. Other states, including California and Florida, allow local courts to decide whether to have trials.

Finding jurors is a big problem in the San Diego superior court, according to Judge Lorna Alksne, the presiding judge. The court had just a 5% yield on jury summonses before its first trial this month.

“Nobody wants to serve,” she told Bloomberg Law.

In Massachusetts, trial courts began a pilot program that reduces the number of jurors from 12 to six. The courts were able to find enough jurors for five juries. But Chief Justice Paula Carey of the Trial Court of Massachusetts told Bloomberg Law that there may be an inadequate number of potential jurors in a few locations.

Jeremy Fogel, a former federal judge who is the executive director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute, told Bloomberg Law that courts in rural areas have “somewhat less difficulty” finding jurors. And some courts in urban areas are beginning to make progress. He recommends that courts make jurors feel comfortable by undertaking “a serious and well-publicized effort to create as much safety as possible.”

New Mexico is pursuing such an effort. Jurors in the state undergo temperature checks and receive “jury bags” with masks, sanitizer, pens and paper. Courts send out videos and letters describing safety procedures. The attendance rate is 70% for qualified jurors.

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