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New rule will spread jury service among more Utahns

Effective in Utah courts for 2014: two-year hiatus from jury duty if you simply comply with your summons. The old rule required actual physical presence in courthouse.
Effective in Utah courts for 2014: two-year hiatus from jury duty if you simply comply with your summons. The old rule required actual physical presence in courthouse.

SALT LAKE CITY — Ivan Lincoln has fond memories of the time he served on a jury.

"It was fun," he said.

A veteran newspaperman, he had just moved to the arts and entertainment desk when he was summoned as a prospective juror in Davis County. He said it was a case against Lagoon — a woman was suing after falling on a ride.

"My boss said, 'You won't even make it on to the jury,'" Lincoln recalled. "I ended up being the jury foreman."

The experience may be available to more Utahns in light of a new rule — prompted by legislation — that keeps people from being called for jury service for two years from the time they comply with a summons. Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, who sponsored HB 239, which passed in the 2013 legislative session, said he hopes the change will allow more Utahns the chance to serve.

"The effect of this bill will likely be that jury duty will be spread out for multiple people," Hall said. "I've heard stories of people getting called over and over again and some people never being called for jury duty. (With this) more will be given the opportunity."

Previously, a person had to serve on a jury or physically report to the courthouse, if directed, to be removed from the prospective juror list. As of Jan. 1, they will just be required to comply with the directions on their summons.

"If you are called for jury service and serve, then your name basically goes on the shelf for two years, so you're not in the general hopper anymore, the computer would not pick you for that two-year period," said Tim Shea, senior staff attorney for Utah State Courts. "What this new amendment … would do is, your name would be set aside for two years even if you don't actually show up for jury service but you have called in as directed in the summons and you are simply not needed."

Hall said he met someone who had been summoned multiple times and shared that person's experience. He read the law, considered the planning and schedule shifting a summons required, and decided it made more sense to expand completed service to include compliance with a summons.

"I believe it's very important to fulfill our civic duty and perform jury duty when called upon, but as it read previously you did not get the two-year break unless you actually set foot in the courthouse, and the life disruption doesn't begin when you set foot in the courtroom, it begins when you receive the summons," Hall said.

He said the bill passed almost unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Shea described the change as "a logical next step from where we are now," but he said Utah may be the only state that has expanded the required jury service to include complying with a summons. No one in Utah is exempt from jury duty.

"We try to make the qualification for jury service as broad as possible so everybody has the opportunity, but we try to make the actual obligation as minimal as possible so no one bears too much of the burden," Shea said. "We have always tried to do innovative things that would spread the obligation as broadly as possible."

Lincoln said the case he served on was "pretty cut and dried" and the jury found Lagoon had complied with applicable rules and wasn't liable.

"It was pretty smooth," Lincoln said. "It was a good experience. I was glad I could do it."

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