ST. JOHNS — Chief Deputy Clerk of the Apache County Superior Court, Delana Waite sat down with the Independent on Wednesday to explain that court’s process in getting jurors to court.
A recent high-profile case in Navajo County Superior Court had to be delayed for a month because the court ran out of jurors. Of 200 people summoned in that case, only 25 showed up, a 12 percent response rate. Apache County has had better results, having between a 50-60 percent response rate, according to Waite.
Apache County’s procedure works like this: When a case is set to a jury trial (whether a criminal case or civil dispute) the court clerk informs court administration about the type of case for which a jury is needed. The number of jurors varies depending on the type of case. Waite and her team then turn to a list of persons randomly selected from the voter registration rolls and the MVD. They send out questionaires first to determine if the potential juror is legally eligible to sit on a jury (U.S. citizen, 18 years old or more, resident of the county, etc.). They send out jury summonses to those who are eligible.
How many summonses depends on a formula based on the number of jurors needed. For example, if a court needs 12 jurors, that number is multiplied by 10 plus five more, so 125 potential jurors are mailed a summons. These persons have already responded to the first questionaire. Fifty to 60 percent show up, and there are plenty in the jury pool for the attorneys and the judge to choose from.
Navajo County, by contrast, has had at least three 2019 jury cases wherein the jury turn-out was paltry: Of 200 jurors summoned only 25, 48, and 56 people respectively responded according a court filing from last month. That’s an average of about 21 percent.
“We love our jurors in Apache County and take good care of them,” explains deputy court clerk Elisa Craig. One juror, she said, lived in far northern Apache County, by the Utah border, and hitchhiked three days to show for jury service. In fact, Waite says that only once in her 20 year experience — one very cold January — only 35 of 100 showed.
Navajo County “serves” its potential jurors by having a law enforcement officer for the Sheriff’s civil division personally deliver the summonses. The cost of that process is not immediately available. In fact, specifics about the Navajo County jury process, including whether it uses a preliminary questionaire, is unknown. A forwarded email last week and a call to its jury commissioner had not been returned as of press time.