American Flag Flying at an unknown court house

Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller values jurors’ time and commitment to judicial system

For more than 200 years, juries have been a cornerstone of the judicial system. During that time, the Manatee County Jury Department has often taken an unconventional approach to fill those coveted box seats.

Twenty-five years ago, jury duty summonses were mailed out based on voter registration — often resulting in only 25 – 30 percent of residents reporting for duty. In those instances where the Jury Department had difficulty with the summoning yield equaling out, it wasn’t entirely unheard of for a judge to tell the jury coordinator to go outside and bring people in off the street to perform their civic duty.

Lori Tolksdorf, Director of Courts for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, was on staff at the time and vividly remembers scrambling to find potential jurors in and around the courthouse after the yield failed to live up to expectations.

Luckily, the Jury Department hasn’t had to take to the streets in recent years, as the Clerk and her staff send out between 200 – 400 jury summons for each specific day of service based on how many trials are scheduled and the number of jurors needed.

While the summoning process has changed over time, the importance of jury duty within the judicial system and the need for jurors to resolve disputes remains the same. The right to trial by jury is a Constitutional right, and as U.S. citizens, it’s a responsibility to serve when called to do so.

“Jury service is a fundamental facet of our government,” says Angel Colonneso, the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. “Jurors are the cornerstone of our justice system and another way to serve your country and community. We appreciate and value their time and commitment to our system of justice.”

LET THE SUMMONING PROCESS BEGIN

In Manatee County, prospective jurors are randomly selected from a list derived from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. All jurors must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, a resident of Manatee County and possess a driver’s license or identification card.

Jury summons and questionnaires are sent out 20 – 30 days prior to the scheduled date of service, with the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller summoning jurors 52 weeks of the year. Jurors are summoned for service on Mondays or Wednesdays with the duration of service lasting either one day or one trial.

Often times, jury duty is regarded as daunting, inconvenient and undesirable, but it’s a valuable civic duty that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The goal is to have a fair and impartial jury to hear the case – a right afford to all Manatee County citizens.

“Most people, even though they do tend to come in almost dreading to have to serve, actually enjoy it after they’ve spent the day and gone through the process,” says Tolksdorf. “I’ve received lots of comments from people who expected to be unhappy with the whole process. Typically, most people leave glad to have been able to serve whether they sit on a jury or not.”

The Jury Department recognizes not everyone summoned will be able to serve whether due to disqualification by statute or optional excuses, such as residents 70 years of age or older, full-time law enforcement officers, expectant mothers and those who have reported for jury service within the past year, among others. Individuals traveling out of town or unavailable on the requested date of service can ask for a one-time postponement and be recalled within a six-month period.

“The willingness of people to serve as a jury of peers and resolve disputes is invaluable to the justice system,” says Matt Whyte, General Counsel and Director of Human Resources for Angel Colonneso. “The right to trial by jury is one of the more fundamental rights afforded under our Constitution and should not be taken lightly by any person that values a free and democratic society.”

COMPLETING YOUR CIVIC DUTY

On the day of their scheduled summons, residents should report to the jury waiting room on the second floor of the Manatee County Judicial Center at 8 a.m. to check in and await jury selection in the courtroom.

During the jury selection process, which may take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on the complexity of the case, potential jurors will be asked a series of questions to determine who will serve on the jury. Those chosen for a jury will be sworn in, and their trial will either begin immediately or they’ll be asked to come back later in the week to start the trial.

Individuals not chosen to sit on a jury will either be released from duty or asked to return to the jury holding room to participate in another selection process.

While the duration of service may be different for each juror, a juror’s term will not exceed more than one trial. The majority of cases are concluded within two or three days. Some cases, however, may last in excess of a week. During the jury selection process, the presiding judge will advise jurors on how long their service may last.
At a minimum, jurors should plan to be at the Judicial Center from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the first day of service. Those jurors not chosen for a case the first day will typically be released from further service.

“It’s just not common to go longer,” says Tolksdorf. “I think that’s what worries a lot of jurors. They see on TV how jurors are gone for weeks on end and get nervous, but it’s very rare — at least in Manatee County. It is important for potential jurors to know their jury service is usually for one day or one trial.