Why getting out of jury duty might be bad for your community

McCracken County Circuit Judge Tim Kaltenbach defends declining a juror’s request to step down from a murder trial Tuesday night. In court, the jury foreman requested that a juror be removed, while in deliberation, because that person was concerned for their safety and for their family.

“The answer is no,” Kaltenbach replied.

He told me he may have considered it during jury selection or leading up to deliberation, but removing a juror that late in the proceeding could reverse a verdict.

A judge is the only person who can remove a juror. The Circuit Clerk’s Office can postpone a day or even month of service for a medical reason, if you’re away at college or if you’ve prepaid a vacation.

McCracken County Circuit Clerk Kim Channell said she is worried about the future of jury trials in the county. “You have that right to ask to be judged by a jury of your peers, and if we don’t have a certain number of jurors to report, then we don’t have that jury trial. And whoever the defendant is will not get their day in court," she said.

She said she’s worried the number of people who ignore juror qualification forms they’ve gotten will grow.

For the month of June, her office requested 1,000 jurors. The notices are sent from Frankfort, and recipients are supposed to return a form to the clerk’s office. Fewer than 300 turned them into Channell’s office.

She said she understands the hardships people face, including “single parents with children at home, or there’s no one to get them off the bus,” but she said she doesn’t understand completely ignoring a civic duty.

Kaltenbach said he leans against dismissing jurors. “It would have to be extreme. The reason is because if you start on that, going down that path, then you’ll be excusing almost everybody,” he said. “If you really are a patriot, then it is part of your civic duty. The decisions that are made are very, very important. Jury service is tough.”

It’s a service that pays just $12.50 a day. Of that, you are required to include $5 as income on your taxes.

If you have a date schedule for jury duty and you don’t show, you will get a phone call asking why. Next, you could be summoned by a judge to explain why you didn’t appear or you could face fines or community service. 

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