MODERN MAYHEM from a Jury Administrator

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For the past 20 years, I have served  as Jury Administrator for the United States District Court in Great Falls, Montana.  This August marks my 25th year anniversary with the court.  Jury Administration isn’t all I do here at the courts, although it has taught me LOTS about perseverance, civic duty and the importance of our justice system— THE best in the world. Not perfect… just the BEST.


This is our NEW courthouse; we moved in July 2009. It’s light, bright, roomy and high-tech.  It’s really a beautiful building, and it is perched on the banks of the Missouri River, and situated right on the River’s Edge Trail.  We love it here!  Come on in and visit anytime!  
The window at my desk!

Did you know that almost all our hearings are open to the public?  The only exception is juvenile cases.  And the Sacajawea room is open to public groups for meetings. (It’s gorgeous!)

  Every other year, I print, mail and process 135,000 questionnaires to the residents of Montana to establish the jury pools for each of the five federal courts in Montana, Butte, Billings, Helena, Missoula &  Great Falls.
A MT map of the five divisions of federal court and counties that comprise each of those divisions.

Many Montana Citizens who serve, especially those from Eastern Montana, drive as much as 450 miles one way to come to court, for the Great Falls and Billings divisions.  The average is about 200 miles! And … we have a turnout of approximately 98% for every trial!  That’s testimony to the integrity, character and willingness of the people of Montana to serve in this important civic duty.

Sorting through the day’s mail!

Over the past twenty odd years we have printed, stuffed, opened, organized, sorted, read and scanned approximately one million forms.  Next time we will be going ‘online’ with the questionnaire, and a new software program. Folks will have the option to complete the form at their computers, which will save lots of money, in postage costs alone, not to mention labor.

Here are some insights  …
–Yes! You “get to” serve!  So many have died for us to have the privilege…
— It’s a summons, not an invitation!  Jury selection is completed in 3 hours or less.  Those who are chosen begin right away to serve in the trial and the rest go home.
— It’s random selection.  That doesn’t mean “fair” according to your personal ideals or standards.  It’s just simply… random!  Some may always be selected, some will never be selected!
— you cannot (and will not) be excused because you have a job, are a parent, or a single parent, live far away, own your own business, or are a farmer, rancher. You won’t be excused because you are a doctor, lawyer, or preacher, either.
— Yes, jury service can be inconvenient and… is a hardship for most everyone who gets a summons!  Especially given the logistics of travel! 
— A little known fact, one in which I get LOTS of notes about:  We only ask your ethnicity, race, gender because we are required to by law.  We  must file a report that shows we have jurors who represent a fair cross section of the population in this state.
— Serving as a juror is not easy!  It is a serious job. It requires integrity and a willingness to be fair and open-minded in every regard! 
— Sequestering is for TV dramas!  (Not once in my 25 years have we ever sequestered a jury!) If you actually serve as a juror in federal court, it’s basically an 8-5 temporary job each day; breaks and lunch time included! You go home to your family at the end of the day.  Jury service typically lasts 2-3 days in federal courts in MT. We pay $40 a day, and currently mileage is paid at 50 cents a mile, as well as a hotel/motel room with per diem as appropriate from where you may live.

The quilt hanging in my cubby at the office

And… finally – this quilt is called
An appropriate title when you’re reading jury questionnaires. 
And… if you have a group to which you’d like me to speak about this important topic, just let me know!

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