Saturday, May 15, 2004

Cleveland suburb ends practice of allowing use of substitute jurors

The Associated Press

ROCKY RIVER - Some civic-minded people in this Cleveland suburb say it made sense to allow people summoned for jury duty to choose substitutes if they were too busy or didn't want to do it.

Trouble is, the decades-old practice in Rocky River Municipal Court was illegal.

Court Clerk William Gareau said he ordered the practice stopped on Tuesday as a result of inquiries from The Plain Dealer. The court handles small-claims, traffic and minor criminal cases and typically has fewer than 10 jury trials a year.

Jean Atkins, president of the nonprofit Ohio Jury Management Association, said she did not know of any other court in Ohio that allowed prospective jurors to send substitutes.

While it might have been convenient for everybody involved, legal experts said getting someone to substitute for you on jury duty undermines the time-tested system for selecting impartial jurors. People with vested interests could even volunteer to be on a jury to influence cases.

Municipal court officials said their predecessors began the practice at least 20 years ago to ensure that they had enough prospective jurors.

Now there's a concern that people convicted by substitute jurors might want to appeal.

State law requires that courts randomly select prospective jurors from lists of licensed drivers or registered voters. And experts agree that letting randomly selected people then send a spouse, friend or neighbor in their place does not abide by the letter or spirit of the law.

"The rules are clearly articulated," said Jean Atkin, president of the nonprofit Ohio Jury Management Association.

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