Street Summons

Mariposa, CA On Wednesday, as jury selection began for a murder trial in Mariposa, only one third of the prospective jurors showed up for jury duty. Since the jury pool was too small to guarantee lawyers could pick a 12-member jury, Judge Dana Walton used a little known California law that allows the judge to direct the sheriff or marshal to summon jurors immediately.

At around noon, Judge Walton sent two sheriff's deputies to the Mariposa post office to find more people for jury duty. As residents came to the post office around lunch-time, they were served jury summons and told to report to the courthouse by 1:00 p.m.

"I'm standing in the post office getting stamps and I'm told if I don't go to jury duty, I'm going to jail," said Pat Skogen. "I don't know what land I'm in right now."

Young or old, healthy or sick, deputies served the jury summons and threatened jail for anyone who didn't get to court within the hour.

"We tried to tell them coming out of the door of the post office that we were coming from the doctor's office," said Theresa Spiers.

"'Doesn't make any difference. You have to sign up for jury duty.' That's what they said to us," complained Skogen.

Spiers had to prop up her leg for the four hours before she was dismissed because of a burst varicose vein. She wasn't the only prospective juror with a good reason not to be there.

"They had a 78-year-old man with his groceries in the car and he had to leave his groceries," said Laura Skelton. "His wife was getting her hair done and he had to leave her there."

Skelton was dismissed because she's a single mother with three kids, but she had to ask for help from babysitters before she was allowed to leave.

Judge Walton says his hand was forced, and even though his decision was completely legal, he doesn't blame people for being mad about being plucked out of the post office. "I mean, an hour's notice? I understand they're upset," he said. "It's not something I took lightly."

The strange move is not unprecedented in Mariposa County, but it hasn't happened in the nine years Walton has been Presiding Judge. He says it's happened four or five times since he started practicing law in the county in 1979.

The court will deal with the people who didn't show up for jury duty on a case-by-case basis, but most of them will get a warning and get thrown back into the jury pool.

"Those people should be the ones getting arrested and brought in not us at the post office," said Skelton.

Skipping out on jury duty could result in fines up to $1500 and as long as five days in jail.

The California Code of Civil Procedure that allows the court to issue the immediate jury summons is CCP 211: "When a court has no prospective jurors remaining available for voir dire from panels furnished by, or available from, the jury commissioner, and finds that not proceeding with voir dire will place a party's right to a trial by jury in jeopardy, the court may direct the sheriff or marshal to summon, serve, and immediately attach the person of a sufficient number of citizens having the qualifications of jurors, to complete the panel."

The courthouse in Mariposa is the oldest one west of the Mississippi. Abraham Lincoln was just running for the U.S. Senate when it opened. Tourists visit, often on the way to Yosemite, and roam the halls.

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