Potential juror jailed for failing to show up when called

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 12, 2002

A Vicksburg man sentenced to 12 hours in jail Tuesday after failing to appear for jury duty spent part of it in the hospital and says he’s still upset.

Judge Frank Vollor said Joe Caruthers had it coming for failing to follow simple instructions. “We had three calls from people asking for a medical excuse for that day,” the veteran judge said. “We told them to fax us a supporting statement. We got a fax from one of them and it was not him.”

Circuit Clerk Larry Ashley, who has been in office since 1988 and whose staff handles jury summonses, said no one in his memory had ever been jailed for refusing jury service.

Caruthers and his wife, who live in Vicksburg, own and operate with their son Cadillac Sal’s Diner in the food court of Metrocenter mall in Jackson.

“It is a mom-and-pop operation,” he said. “My wife usually cooks, and I run the register,” Caruthers said. “If any one of us would miss work for any reason sales are less than 20 percent of what of your normal daily activity would be with two people working.” Additional difficulties are, he said, that his wife doesn’t drive and he has a heart condition.

Vollor confirmed that Caruthers contacted his office about the medical hardship.

“He called my office and left word on the answering machine saying he was not coming to court for jury service,” the judge said. “He did not ask for an excuse.”

Caruthers said he received a summons at 11:30 p.m. Monday telling him to be in court Tuesday morning.

That followed a notification by mail two weeks earlier. “The moment I got the summons, I picked up the telephone, called and there’s an answering machine. I tell them I am not going in defiance, and I meant it,” he said.

Thursday of last week, Caruthers said he decided he would call the phone number on the summons to present his case.

“The lady was as kind, as gracious and as good as she could be,” he said.

Caruthers said the person he spoke with that day, whose name he did not know, told him he was excused. Based on that, he did not appear Monday for Warren County Circuit Court which turned out to be a mistake.

“I sentenced him to three days in jail and a $100 fine,” Vollor said. “I suspended two-and-a-half days and ordered him to serve 12 hours.”

While being locked up, the jail nurse checked Caruthers’ blood pressure and found it abnormally high. He was taken to River Region Medical Center where he was examined and returned to jail.

Vollor said Caruthers was told the procedure is to have a physician fax in a statement. Caruthers would have had no trouble had he done that, Vollor indicated.

Vollor said judges take jury service very seriously. “Our verdicts would not be very good without good people on the juries,” Vollor said. “We want good, responsible, busy people on the juries.”

The pace of court actions picked up this year. Vollor said he had been scheduling more trials because the Mississippi Supreme Court said it wanted more cases brought to a conclusion.

In Warren County in 2002, Vollor alone scheduled 31 weeks for trials plus two grand juries. Fourteen actual jury trials were held, of which 11 were criminal matters and the rest were civil cases.

To handle the number of trials for Vollor and the other courts Warren County Court and trials before Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick the Warren County Election Commission places the names of 10,000 to 15,000 Warren County voters in the jury pool. From that pool about 125 names are drawn for possible service on normal criminal or civil matters. For high-profile cases, such as murder trials or medical malpractice cases, 350 or more people may have to be called.

“From that we may get 50 to 70 to show up,” Vollor said.