Mitchell pushes through jury bill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2005

A jury reform bill sponsored by Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D-Luverne) and Rep. Cam Ward, (R-Columbiana) passed without dissent during the recent special session of the Alabama Legislature.

Gov. Bob Riley signed the bill into law on Thursday.

The bill, known as the Jury Patriotism Act, previously passed in the House but died in the Senate.

Mitchell said Thursday; the bill makes several changes to current law by making jury service more flexible for those called.

One of the biggest changes Mitchell said was that the new law prevents a person from being called for jury more than once in a two-year period, which was previously not the case. Also, it prevents an employer from penalizing an employee by requiring them to use vacation or leave time to fulfill their civic duty.

He went on to say that the Bill was the collaborative effort of the business and legal communities.

"On the business side it says that if two people are subpoenaed from the same company, one is automatically excused as not to create a hardship on the business," he said. "On the legal side, there has been little enforcement or standard by which people can request dismissals. "

He said the Bill outlined legitimate excuses such as medical issues, family crisis and such. However, if they just decide not to show? Well it's going to go cost some cash.

"If they have no reason for not showing up, we raised the fine to $300," he said. "It is bringing about a balance of the doing your civic duty."

Ward said civic duty should be a process, and people should not be penalized.

"As a society, our participation in the civic process should always be a priority, but we should not have laws that penalize those who want to serve their community," Ward said.

Ward reported the new law would also instill the notion that people have the obligation to serve.

Previously, according to Mitchell, failure to appear for a jury summons was punishable by a $100 fine, which was less than the cost to enforce the penalty.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the Council of State Governments and several national chambers of commerce supported the bill.

Mitchell credited Second Judicial Circuit Judge H. Edward McFerrin for valuable input in the reform.

"Judge McFerrin is one of those judges who has been doing most of the things in the Bill in his courtroom already," she said.

McFerrin's office was contacted in regards to this story, but he did not return phone calls.

Mitchell also said he was pleased the Bill passed without dissent and believed it would after failing in the regular session.

"In the regular session, every major bill except the education budget was bottled up in the Senate," he said. "I sensed then that people had eyeballed several good bills and I believed this to be one of those good bills. This is where experience comes in."

Mitchell said being in office as long as he has been; he tends to read the situation and also how to read your peers.

"The bills in the special session went through a screening out process," he said. "When you don't have any bad bills, you aren't going to have anyone try to block you."