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County mounts campaign to attract jurors

By: Mike Murphy//August 29, 2012

County mounts campaign to attract jurors

By: Mike Murphy//August 29, 2012

Courtesy Monroe County Clerk’s Office

County officials are hoping a marketing campaign aimed at increasing minority and overall participation in jury pools will make a difference.

Posters carrying the message, “Now it’s your turn to make a difference,” are on display in the Monroe County Clerk’s Office downtown as well as in Department of Motor Vehicles offices in Greece and Henrietta and at mobile offices.

Posters also are displayed at several locations in the city, including barbershops and Action for a Better Community, among others. City Hall has displayed the poster, as well as sent out jury registration forms and information on city housing, voter registration forms, and letters of congratulations to newlyweds in its own efforts to boost numbers.

This is part of an ongoing outreach effort aimed at diversifying the county jury pool, particularly reaching people who live in areas with low response rates to jury questionnaires and summonses.

All it takes for a qualified juror to serve is completing a form and sending it, said Charles G. Perreaud, the county jury commissioner. A prospective juror then could be notified to serve within several weeks.

“We want to encourage people to step up and serve their community,” Perreaud said.

An Office of Court Administration’s Office of Court Research study in 2010 indicated that fewer black, low-income and young people responded to questionnaires or had the information come back as undeliverable.

Based on census data, the county’s black population is 12 percent.

African-Americans, however, are under-represented in the jury pool by 3 to 4 percent, Perreaud said.

“There should be more people of color in the pool,” Perreaud said.

Potential jurors are identified in several ways: through a state income tax list, photo registration, unemployment compensation and social services, as well as volunteering information through questionnaires.

In many of the low-income areas, people tend to move more often and current addresses are unavailable, contributing to the higher rates of non-deliverable mail and non-responses to the juror questionnaire, Perreaud said.

The DMV can, at least on paper, deliver numbers.

Hundreds of thousands of people visit the DMV throughout the year, according to a statement from County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo, and she is hopeful more people will be identified for service.

Addresses are current and readily available, and the exposure to potential jurors is greater through these offices, Perreaud said.

About 500 marriages are performed every year at City Hall. The city’s effort — which came about in a brainstorming session — seemed to be an easy and inexpensive way to address the problem, said City Clerk Dan Karin.

“We can get 1,000 of those forms in people’s hands,” Karin said. “If we’ve played a small part, that’s great.”

So far, the campaign seems to be working.

The program has proved effective; Perreaud said he doesn’t have solid figures just yet, but “our numbers have improved.”

Besides being a constitutional right, the power of one juror, with his or her unique life experience and perspective, is absolutely critical to the judicial process, Perreaud said.

And, he said, jurors should reflect their communities.

“One juror can make a tremendous difference,” Perreaud said.

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