Long-dead Las Vegas councilman gets jury duty notice


Al Levy died 14 years ago, but that almost wasn't enough to excuse him from jury duty.

Levy, a former Las Vegas city councilman who died in 1997 from a heart attack, was recently summoned to Clark County District Court. A copy of the jury summons demanded he show up Wednesday or risk a contempt of court charge with a fine up to $500 and a bench warrant for his arrest.

"How do you find a person who has been gone for 14 years?" asked Joanne Levy, his wife, as her frustration with the system continued to grow.

Court officials blamed the error on staff shortages and old information in NV Energy and Department of Motor Vehicles databases used by county courts as a random selection pool for potential jurors. They said it points to a broken system in need of repair.

Officials also said the process does not accurately portray the community at large because people fail to update account information, and some people who don't qualify for jury duty can still pay power bills.

JOANNE LEVY'S STORY

Joanne Levy's problems began when she kept her late husband's name on her utility bills. After receiving the juror notice, she called the number listed on the summons, which led her to an automated system. She answered "101" questions about her husband and plugged in his age, 78, as if he was still alive.

Levy said she thought his age would excuse him from jury duty and fix the problem.

She also said there were no options available to speak with a real person.

That is a common complaint, County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigiliani said.

"You can never get to anybody," Sisolak said after hearing about Levy's story. "You push another button and never get satisfaction. You can't push zero to speak to an operator. Why that option isn't available, I don't know."

Giunchigiliani said she recently was summoned and spent four hours on the phone trying to get through the system.

Levy said she received a letter from the court addressed to her late husband a few days after her phone call. The letter stated that the excuse -- because of age -- was denied.

She then wrote a note to jury commissioner Maggie Martinez asking her to resolve the matter and sent copies of her husband's death certificate, the rejection letter and the original summons. She forwarded the packet to all seven county commissioners, among other county and court officials.

"When I got this rejection letter, I started laughing," Levy said. "It's absurd, absolutely absurd. Where's the court finding this information?"

Al Levy has since been excused from jury duty.

SYSTEM UPGRADE NEEDED, OFFICIAL SAYS

Matthew Zoccole, assistant court administrator, said he has been looking into upgrading the court's 10-year-old system for about two years and estimates a new program would cost between $350,000 and $450,000.

"It's a shame we identified that we need to upgrade our system in this economy," Zoccole said. "Had we been ahead of the curve, it would already be done. We wouldn't be struggling. We're doing our best in our present circumstance to make it a priority."

Zoccole said the court's technology for jury selection is far behind that of other major court systems nationwide, including Los Angeles and San Diego.

Newer technology would allow the court to tailor its selection process by including financial, employment, property tax information and other information to weed out and identify potential jurors. Questionnaires would become more detailed but could be submitted electronically.

The idea of reverting to voter registration has been considered -- something that county officials said had previously discouraged people from registering to vote to get out of jury duty.

"Quite frankly, no matter what pool we use, we'll always have some sort of error or little nuisances that occur," Zoccole said.

"It's difficult to contemplate among the public utilities what will be the most accurate or updated the most. Reverting back to voter registration could put ourselves back in the predicament of discouraging jurors to vote and getting an accurate representation of the community."

Plans to update the system could come to fruition in the next two years if funding comes together, Zoccole added.

Levy said she was concerned about taxpayer money wasted on these incidents while court officials pursue a new system for selecting potential jurors.

Because it happened to her, it will probably happen to other people, she said.

"You keep hearing from cities, counties and courts that they don't have any money," Levy said. "It's not right when they're sending jury notices and denials to dead people. They need to find a way to merge documents in the city and the county. It amazes me they don't have a better system."

Zoccole said the court plans to send an apology letter to Levy.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan @reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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