Change in jury selection system gathers more unqualified candidates

There’s a snafu in the state court’s jury summons system, and it’s going to get worse. Blame it on the nationwide push for more diversity on juries.

In New York, they’re broadening the list of prospective jurors by adding welfare recipients. We’re turning to Nevada Power Co.

In Clark County, at the request of the Nevada Supreme Court, they’re going to begin drawing from the power company’s customer list. The power customer list, beginning early next year, will be blended with our current jury pool source, a list of people with drivers’ licenses.

It’s also going to net a whole lot of people who are not eligible to serve on a jury, including resident aliens and illegal aliens. And there’s no way to dismiss the ineligible in advance. They have to go to court to be exempted.

Las Vegas immigration attorney Julia Osborne, vice chair of the Nevada Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she’s getting on average one client a week who is not here legally being called for jury duty. They’re asking her: What should they do? They don’t want to commit a crime by serving, but they don’t want to expose themselves to showing up the Regional Justice Center and being identified as illegal.

County officials have adopted the “trust your government” approach. They say they’re not going to have immigration officials there to apprehend anyone living here illegally. There are more than 100,000.

Osborne said immigration attorneys are going to court and asking judges to dismiss the summonses, but that’s another example of time and money wasted. She might charge someone $300 for her time in getting a jury summons dismissed for someone who isn’t eligible.

And there’s the confusion factor. Osborne said one of her clients, an educated Panamanian woman, thought the laws had been changed. “She thought it was part of immigration reform and thought she should report for jury duty.”

That isn’t a problem in federal court. U.S. District Court Clerk Lance Wilson explained: “We only use the voter registration lists and the first question asked is: ‘Are you a citizen?’ ” Of course, in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, the average number of jurors needed for potential trials is 180 a week.

The demand for jurors in the 8th Judicial District Court? Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 19, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said 63,901 jurors were summoned for jury duty. There were 1,892 resident aliens dismissed. The court doesn’t track the number of illegals dismissed.

Sommermeyer agreed it’s possible for illegal and resident aliens to end up serving on state juries. If that were discovered, a mistrial would be declared.

A system for resident aliens exists that they can call to punch in their resident alien numbers, and they are dismissed from the jury pool. How do you set up a system for illegal aliens? Osborne suggested a system of sending in a sworn affidavit as a way to dismiss an illegal alien without having to go to court.

Sommermeyer said people who want to avoid jury duty could then just say they are illegal aliens. A phone system to hit a button if you are illegal would be abused by others. (Of course, how desirable are potential jurors willing to lie to avoid jury duty?)

Many won’t be particularly sympathetic to complaints from immigration attorneys who say it’s a waste of time for illegal aliens to have to go to court so a judge will dismiss them from the jury pool. But consider the waste of time and effort when there’s a mistrial because a juror wasn’t a citizen. Wasting time and wasting money are things we’re supposed to abhor and avoid.

The state court seems to be inviting problems by using power customers for its jury pool without a better way to screen out illegal aliens.

For selfish reasons, I want court officials to fix this.

I don’t want to be competing with people who don’t need to be at the Regional Justice Center for those most valuable of resources — parking spaces and a place in line during the interminable wait to catch an elevator.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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