Gallatin Co. judge summons numerous people for missing jury duty


BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Gallatin County judge grilled 14 potential jurors on why they failed to show up for jury duty.

Gallatin County isn't the only one that's dealt with jury duty dodgers recently. In June a Sanders County judge ordered a dozen jurors to write apologies for missing jury duty or face fines, and a July rape trial in north Idaho had to be postponed after 38 prospective jurors failed to appear.

Looking through Thursday's court records, some of the jurors were no shows for some serious trials and hearings. Those proceedings include the case against Diana Arnold, the Bozeman woman who received a 100-year sentence for shooting a former tenant in the face, and the case against Charles Rickett, a prerelease walkaway convicted of tying up and threatening his former foster mother.

NBC Montana was in district court and spoke to the judge and the county prosecutor. We learned that no-show jurors haven't been much of a problem in Gallatin County in the past, but Thursday's hearings were unprecedented. It's the first time they've had to call so many people in at once for missing jury duty.

"In court today, were people who ignored those notices or did not appear for the start of the trial," said Gallatin County District Judge John Brown.

A total of 14 people appeared before Brown on Thursday, from seven different trials or hearings. All had to explain why they didn't show up as summoned.

"They need to explain and give everybody the fact -- if they don't think they'll be available, there's a procedure," said Brown.

Belgrade resident Todd Elser was one of the people who appeared before Brown.

"My excuse is I didn't check my mail and it was late when I got the notice," said Elser.

Brown let Elser off, but he could have been fined up to $50. Elser says that next time he'll pay closer attention.

"Probably be more vigilant on my mail," said Elser.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert says that it is unusual for a judge to take time to summon no-show jurors.

"Obviously if one of the district judges goes to, has to take that, his or her time to do that, there's a problem," said Lambert.

Lambert says it's important that summoned jurors show up in a jury trial. They are the ones that ultimately decide whether someone is innocent or guilty and if enough jurors fail to appear, it could force the trial to be delayed.

"Our system of government and system of law is set up for juries to make the most important decisions we make," said Lambert.

Brown agrees and says that jury duty should be considered a privilege.

"Being a juror is not only an important civic duty, but it's a privilege to come down and be a juror, and people need to take the notices seriously," he said.

There are procedures for someone who has a hardship and can't make their assigned jury date. You can ask to be excused as long as you explain in a written affidavit.

Montana law states that there are minimum requirements to be a juror. Potential jurors must be 18 years old, a citizen of the United States, and be living in the city, county or state they are asked to serve for at least 30 days.