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Lewis and Clark Co. finds success in reducing the number of outstanding jury questionnaires

Posted at 5:40 PM, Dec 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-04 22:22:02-05

HELENA — Some Montana counties have reported challenges in getting people selected to serve as potential jurors to complete an important questionnaire.

Every June, each county will send out thousands of postcards to randomly selected residents to notify them that they will be part of a pool of potential jurors for the next cycle.

The people selected are chosen from a combined list of voter registrations, state ID cards and licensed drivers.

In Lewis and Clark Co. 7,000 postcards were sent out to residents. Clerk of District Court Angie Sparks says completing the survey is an important part of helping them build a pool of qualified jurors, and it's part of their civic duty.

"I know they don't always like to hear that but by law, by statute, it says that they need to respond," says Sparks.

Sparks has been the Clerk of District Court since 2017. Shortly after she moved into the role she adopted an electronic survey.

"I saw what it was doing for Missoula County and her responses were really well."

She told MTN that making the survey available online has reduced the number of non-responses and saved the county money, including about $5,000 in the first year.

Technically people receiving the postcard have two weeks to complete the survey. Sparks said she let it go a little longer this year and that by September 1 her office was down to 2,500 outstanding surveys.

She says she sent those people a paper form with the understanding that the electronic form may not work for everyone and by the end of November the number of outstanding questionnaires was down to 928.

Compare that to Gallatin County, where on November 24 the Sheriff's Office posted that there were still 3,000 outstanding questionnaires.

Cascade County says as of December 1 it had 3,483 outstanding jury questionnaires and listed the names of people who had not completed the questionnaires.

But much like Gallatin County, Lewis and Clark County ultimately has to send the list of people who haven't responded to the sheriff's office.

Lewis and Clark Co. Sheriff Leo Dutton says his office will around 70 people a week to try and track down.

"We have to dedicate deputies to go out and find these people or find that they have moved because you didn't change your address," adds Sheriff Dutton.

Sparks acknowledges that for some people this may seem like a hassle. However, she wants people to think about what a robust pool of potential jurors means to someone on trial or their family.

"If your family member were on trial would you want a fair and impartial jury? And the answer is yes," says Sparks.

But Dutton also reminded people that failure to respond could lead to a separate court appointment for themselves,

"A judge may find you in contempt and bring you before them."

It is important to remember that the card received in June is not a jury summons, only a notice to complete the jury questionnaire so that you may called to serve on a jury during the next cycle