TAMPA -- A Tampa judge got so angry at the number of no-shows for jury duty one day last month that he summoned them back to the courthouse to explain themselves Friday -- with the threat of a fine and jail time.
No one ended up behind bars after the hearing, but the 246 people who sat nervously in the gallery of the large courtroom got a stern lecture on responsibility and a civics lessons from Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, who made sure everyone stood and recited the “Pledge of Allegiance” first.
“This country asks very little of you,” Holder told them in a booming voice. “This state asks very little of you. Vote and serve on juries.”
The judge called a couple people to the podium to explain themselves, saving most of his wrath for a Tampa man named Dovay Compton. Holder, a United States Military Academy graduate and veteran, said someone had called the court and asked for an exemption for Compton because he is in the military. Compton said he was not, but claimed he didn’t know who called the court and lied for him.
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Holder tersely ordered the man back to his seat.
Holder became rankled when it took three hours to gather a pool of 22 jurors for a trial in his courtroom Oct. 3 in Hillsborough County, one of the state’s largest. After accounting for exemptions, the level of no-shows that day was about 40 percent, the county court system said.
Usually about 20 to 25 percent of those summoned -- their names taken from state driver’s license rolls -- don’t respond to jury summons.
By a show of hands Friday, about half of the people simply forgot to show up, including James Johnson of Tampa, who was one of four people who brought lawyers with them to the hearing.
Holder mentioned that he knew Johnson’s mother and added, “It’s not your mother’s fault you missed jury duty.”
Some people said the summons went to the wrong address. Some sent their exemption forms in and were listed as no-shows anyway.
One man was there on behalf of his mother, who had moved back to Colombia.
Another man said he was a convicted felon and shouldn’t have gotten a summons anyway. Holder chided him for failing to check the appropriate box and send back the exemption form.
Holder ordered everyone there to return to the courthouse as prospective jurors in January. He said he’s forming a committee to try to make the summons process more accurate and efficient.
Before dismissing them, Holder asked again if any among them wanted to go to jail, noting that the lunch menu there included bologna and cheese sandwiches.