An amendment to the county's juror summons policy now makes it clear that automated calls and texts can be used as a way to notify potential jurors of court date changes.
Administrators with the Council of Judges, which oversees the jury summons and selection process, said the wording to the selection plan was updated and approved by the council last week. The El Paso County Commissioners Court adopted the changes Monday in a 3 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Tania Chozet voting against the change. Commissioner Anna Perez was absent.
"It was primarily a change to the language of the policy, and not a big change to the way we do things," said Mike Izquierdo, executive director of the Council of Judges.
The amended section states that jury summons "shall be delivered by giving personal notice to each person or by leaving a written notice to that effect at the person's place of residence with some person of proper age and discretion, by phone or by mail."
Izquierdo said at issue was that the lack of language in the policy was being used as a way for people to get out of paying fines for not showing up to jury duty.
"We always get the 'I didn't get the notice' excuse, but once you've signed up and we have your information then we have a way to get in touch with you," Izquierdo said.
Potential jurors will continue to first get summoned to sit on a jury panel by mail and will still be required to fill out the questionnaire online or return it via mail before their date of service. Names are taken from the Department of Motor Vehicles and voter registration rosters.
If a service date is canceled or changed, potential jurors will be notified via an automated phone system to the numbers they indicated on the questionnaire.
About 190,000 El Pasoans are qualified to serve on jury duty every year. Izquierdo said about 90 percent of those who are called to serve show up, but many don't return when the court date is rescheduled.
Failure to show up to jury duty can lead to fines of up to $1,000 plus court costs of nearly $300.
Last year, some $400,000 in fines and fees were collected from those who failed to show up to jury duty, Izquierdo said.
People who are in court as prospective jurors but are not selected are paid $6 a day. People who are excused from jury duty at Liberty Hall, if a case was canceled, for example, are not compensated. If selected to serve, jurors are paid $40 a day.
Cindy Ramirez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6151.