We deserve to be judged by our past when it comes to racial disparities in jury service, but we cannot settle for any less than redemption for our future.
With freedom comes an undying need to protect and follow our individual responsibilities with the same fervor that we protect and follow our individual rights. As we discussed in Part 2 of this three-part series, one of those key responsibilities is jury service; it is a right and a responsibility bundled together as the ultimate hallmark of justice.
We all have a choice, a choice that is especially important for persons of color today. You can accept the call for jury service so you can provide an opportunity for fellow citizens to have their case decided by an accurate cross-section of the community. Or, you can ignore the call and perpetuate the very problem we need to remedy.
To be eligible for juror service in any Washington state court, you must be at least 18 years old, be a citizen, live in the county where the court is located, speak English, and be free of felony convictions. In addition, you must live within the city limits of Federal Way to serve as a juror in our local court.
In Federal Way, your obligation starts with the receipt of a questionnaire. All courts rely on a random process for selecting the potential jurors. You could receive a questionnaire if you have a Washington driver’s license, if you are registered to vote, or both.
The questionnaire is intended to gauge your eligibility for jury service and for you to provide information about any difficulties you may have with jury service. The first step is to answer the questions and return the questionnaire. There is no charge for return postage.
You will then receive a summons for jury service if you are eligible and are not excused. In Federal Way, your summons will require you to appear on two consecutive Wednesdays. You are required to call the court late Tuesday afternoon to see if you are required to report the following day. Most trials are completed in two days or less with some taking three days.
Please show up for jury service when summoned regardless of race or ethnicity. Failing to appear for jury service may be a crime, but appear in court because it is the right thing to do, not because you are afraid of committing a crime if you do not appear.
There are legitimate reasons why jury service might be harder for some than others, but please know that there is a process in place that accounts for those varying hardships. However, if no legal hardship or exception applies, you are then required to report for jury service as ordered by the court.
You can ask the court to be excused, but you can also ask to delay your jury service to another date during the year if you have a scheduling conflict, a temporary medical condition, are needed at work during the time you are summoned, or for any other reason approved by the court.
You need to know that your employer is required to provide you with a leave of absence for jury service and cannot deny you employment or retaliate in any way if you take time off for jury duty. Any employer that violates this law is guilty of a crime. You can also sue them to get your job back, for damages, and for attorney’s fees.
We are doing our best to raise awareness and take action on remedying racial disparities and improving overall attitudes towards jury service. However, meaningful improvements will only occur when you personally return the questionnaire upon receipt and then show up for jury service when summoned.
Judge Dave Larson, Federal Way Municipal Court; Councilmember Hoang Tran; Nichelle Curtis-McQueen, Federal Way Diversity Commission; William Yi, Federal Way Diversity Commission; Pastor Joe Bowman, Jr., Integrity Life Church; Lawrence Garrett, Advancing Leadership; Sandra Englund, Korean American Community Member.
(Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series on racial disparities in jury service.)