By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer
Judges and lawyers agree justice will be better served now that Curry County jurors serve less time in the 9th Judicial District.
The adjustment from three months to one month was made by Curry County District Court Clerk Dianna Hunt because of increased court traffic, and has resulted in greater juror diversity, she said.
The change went into effect in January.
“I felt like asking people to serve three months was too much, because the court is getting busier and busier,” Hunt said. “They’re more likely to serve one month rather than three months, and we’re getting a more diverse group of people.”
Roosevelt County jurors will continue to serve three months, according Roosevelt County Courthouse Clerk Margie Jones.
“For right now, we’ll keep it as it is. We don’t have as many cases as Curry County does,” Jones said.
Though previous jury pools of 60 members have been diverse at the Curry County Courthouse, according to 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, juries decreased as time passed.
“When we have numbers dwindle to 20 at the later part of 90-day service, it’s difficult to pick a jury with that small pool,” Chandler said.
He said jury panels shrink after 60 days because jurors can’t afford to neglect their personal lives any longer.
Local defense attorney Michael Garrett said juror diversity will increase with shorter one-month duty requirements.
“I believe in most cases we’re going to find a wider (jury) selection throughout the entire community,” Garrett said.
Curry County Courthouse Bailiff Bill Askew said January’s jury pools were more relaxed than in the past.
Though jurors aren’t required to appear in court every day, when in trial their lives are interrupted by eight hour days supplemented by the state’s minimum wage, according to the court’s jury summons form.
Garrett has practiced locally for 40 years, and thinks the change accommodates jurors’ lives.
“This is a substantial improvement,” Garrett said. “It’s short enough so people can allocate time (to serve) over a month.”
“Many times jurors have to get arrangements at work and (with) child-care. They have things in their lives and it can be difficult to donate three months straight to jury duty. Thirty days is not too much to ask. We need attentive jurors. The justice system is based on the part of jurors,” he said.
There were three trials last month under the new jury panel configuration, said District Judge Parker, who favors the change.
Chandler and Garrett each tried a case under the new system, they said.
Trial jury service time changes come in the wake of similar grand jury adjustments, Chandler said. In November, grand jurors began serving 45 days instead of 90.
Grand juries used to convene two times every month, they now meet once a week, he said.