Low jury response rate costs taxpayers thousands of dollars

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- You know it's your civic responsibility. But, a lot of people still dread getting summoned to jury duty. However, dreading it and skipping it are very different things. Things have gotten so bad in Yakima County that you're now forced to shell out more taxpayer money to cover the people who don't show.

Paul Monaham is a firm believer in serving on jury duty.

"Unless there are some major reasons why you can't do it, we should have that obligation, and if it makes us squirm to do it we should still do it," said Monaham.

The clerk's office wishes more people thought like Paul. They're working much harder than decades ago to fill that jury box.

"In order to get in 10,000 jurors potentially for the year, we have to send out 30,000 questionnaires," said Kim Eaton, Yakima County Clerk.

Last year, fewer than 30 percent of jurors summoned in Yakima County responded to the call. That rate hasn't changed much in recent years, compared to the mid-90's when it was more than 90 percent.

It was around that time too that the mailing list for potential jurors was expanded to include not just registered voters, but those with a driver's license or ID card. This actually slowed the process because more jury summons went to outdated addresses.

This required the clerk's office to spend more time and resources to summon even more people. That translates to an additional $70 thousand a year in taxpayer money. Still, some jurors are excused, or others don't show up at all.

"It is a crime if they don't appear, they could be charged with a crime, I've not yet seen that happen in Yakima County, and it's a misdemeanor," said Eaton.

A small pool to choose from means some potential jurors get summoned again and again. I spoke to a defense attorney about whether this could affect their impartiality. I was told other factors are more important than repeated time on a jury.

Yakima County Clerk, Kim Eaton, hopes you'll follow through if you get the call.

"People that have come in and been very reluctant to serve, once they have finished and gone through the process they're glad they did, and quite frankly it's an honor," said Eaton.

The Yakima County Clerk's office handles the municipal courts for Yakima, Union Gap and Grandview, as well as District and Superior Court.

Other jurisdictions in the state are having the same problem. Resources haven't been available to find more options to fix the problem.