Interim Committee Considers Jury Service

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AUSTIN, TEXAS—Today, as the Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee considers an Interim Charge to examine jury service participation and response rates in Texas, Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse (TALA) pointed to their recent study that tracks jury service participation and found troubling numbers.

“While state and county leaders continue to work to improve participation in our judicial system, there is still a lack of interest and participation,” said Jennifer Harris, executive director and spokesperson for TALA.

Committee members on Thursday examined issues related to participation and response rates, the jury wheel data and methods to improve the process.

The TALA study looked at participation rates across a number of counties in Texas, and while Texans are called to serve, a majority are simply not showing up when summoned.  In some Texas counties, the lack of participation runs as high as 80 percent.

“The TALA study pointed to the fact that participation is bad, even worse than many may realize,” added Harris.  “Our judicial system only works when the accused is able to obtain a fair and impartial jury, but unfortunately Texans aren’t responding to the call to serve.  It’s imperative that citizens take a vested interest in our process and participate.”

TALA’s 2014 study analyzed responses from 10 Texas counties.  The full study is available online at: http://www.tala.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Texas-Jury-Participation-Final-Report-FINAL1.pdf.

However, highlights from the study include:

  • Montgomery (14.12 percent) and Harris (26.54 percent) notched the lowest participation rates and also showed a decline from the previous year (2012).
  • Cameron County reported the highest participation rates of those counties surveyed with nearly 73 percent.

TALA also found that participation in larger counties varies by zip code. For example, in 2004 in Harris County, jury participation ranged from 5 percent to 35 percent depending on zip code, with higher response rates among more affluent neighborhoods.

Efforts to make jury service easier on citizens have seen mixed results. Transitions to electronic summons systems – while saving on postage and reducing administrative costs for counties – have had varying success and impact on jury service participation. Hidalgo County, for example, saw a lower juror response rate in 2010 after the implementation of the new online summons system.

TALA continues to work to raise awareness about jury service and spread the message that it is an important civic duty.

“It’s vital to our democracy that people’s perception of jury service change,” said Harris.  “Rather than a duty that should be shirked, Texans must instead consider it a privilege to participate in a system that places so much power in the hands of its citizens.”

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Media contact: Jennifer Waisath Harris, 512-773-7168