Judge Hahn leads by example, responds to jury summons
When Judge Buddie Hahn of the 260th District Court in Orange County received his jury duty summons notification he did what every citizen ought to do- he served.
He was in the jury pool on Monday morning in Judge Coutrney Arkeen’s 128th District Court for the start of a sexual assault case. Hahn, however, was excused from jury duty because he was too familiar with the case.
“I’ve got a notice to appear just like everyone else. The county has been insistent on people appearing and going after people who don’t show up. Judges are not exempted by law. It wouldn’t be fair,” Hahn said.
The case was originally assigned three weeks ago in Arkeen’s court. The defendant didn’t appear and a warrant was issued for him and his bond amount was kicked up, he said.
“I told both lawyers (the prosecutor and the defense attorney) I could be fair but there would always be a question in my mind. I couldn’t get the failure to appear charge out of my mind,” he said. “I couldn’t promise it would not affect me.”
Hahn added it angers judges and upsets them to set up a jury for a case and the defendant not show up.
In a prior Record article on March 27, it was reported Orange County officials will now be taking actions to enforce the law so citizens will appear for jury duty. Jurors without a reasonable excuse to miss jury duty may face a criminal penalty prescribed by law and subject to a contempt action punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $1,000.
A juror lawfully notified shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500 if the juror fails to attend court in obedience to the notice without reasonable excuse. Roughly 100 potential jurors assembled at the Orange County Courthouse on March 21 to set a date for jury duty they missed or give a reasonable excuse to the judge why they couldn’t serve.
Hahn said he, and the other two district court judges — Arkeen and Dennis Powell — had to come up with some kind of plan so people would appear for court, but also not be overbearing about it.
“We sent out 1,000 jury notices last jury session and there were 800 no-shows,” Hahn said. “We had a 20 percent appearance rate. It kept dwindling down. Other counties are experiencing the same thing.”
On another occasion, notices were sent again to 200 other potential jurors and only 63 appeared for duty. That’s why the jurors were there that Wednesday afternoon to explain to the court why they didn’t appear.
Hahn said jurors have the option of calling in or going online to reschedule an alternate date.
Alternate dates were set on April 30, May 7, May 21 and June 4 for the jurors. Seven potential jurors were exempted from serving after they spoke with the judge.
Vickie Edgerly, Orange County District Clerk, said this is actually the fifth chance for jurors to respond.
First, they are sent two qualification cards and afterward four notices to show. Some will receive three notices for a failure to appear. Different summonses are sent for those who qualify either by online or by telephone.
Hahn said some exemptions are legitimate to miss jury duty.
For instance, one man was serving in the military in Saudi Arabia when he received his summons. One woman was undergoing chemotherapy for six weeks. Another man moved to Beaumont and his ex-wife wouldn’t send him his mail.
Convicted felons may not serve on a jury.
Economic hardship, however, won’t get one out of jury duty because it is not a legal and recognized excuse. Employers must hold their employees jobs but they don’t have to be paid while serving on a jury.
Edgerly said residents who move to another county must let Orange County know they have moved or they will stay in the system. Also, family members must notify the county of other family members who are deceased or ill.
The county implemented a new computerized system for jury notification last year to keep track. Previously, Edgerly said nothing was happening to jurors if they didn’t show up.
Another thing that changed is residents are chosen for jury duty if they possess a valid driver’s license and not based on if they are registered to vote.
Edgerly added residents appearing for jury duty saves the county money down the road because fewer notices need be sent out.
“I don’t know if we left an impression (on those who were delinquent for jury duty). This is the first step for something,” Hahn said. “We had to do something. We didn’t want word on the street spread if you have jury duty in Orange County, and you miss, you don’t have to worry about it.”
Hahn said he wouldn’t be surprised if other judges receive jury duty summons.
“I would be surprised if they don’t appear. We have a lot of knowledge about cases but that can also prejudice us.
“Jury duty is elemental and the foundation of our judicial system- the right to be judged by our peers and not by judges. When people refuse to come, we can’t go forward,” Hahn said.