Jury duty legislation ill-conceived

  • By Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial
  • Wednesday, March 11, 2015 7:07pm
  • Opinion

Almost no one relishes the prospect of jury duty.

Although the service is a vital part of our civic responsibility, most people aren’t fond of the prospect of having to spend time away from work or home in court. Everyone has their reasons — discomfort with deciding a fellow Alaskan’s guilt or innocence, distrust of the legal system, simple resentment at being taken away from other important priorities — but regardless, we all have to serve.

This week, a member of the Alaska Legislature introduced a bill that would change that, carving out an exemption from jury duty for teachers during the school year.

The bill is undoubtedly brought forward with good intentions, but the Legislature should reject it for the damage it would do to a bedrock institution of democracy.

Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, introduced the bill. He says excusing schoolteachers from jury service during the school year will prevent disruptions to learning in the classroom.

These disruptions of the regular class schedule are a headache for teachers and schools. They are costly, as substitutes must be hired, and they often force departures from regular lesson plans that can impact students’ education. Teachers are numerous enough that members of the profession receive jury notices frequently. They are also important to our society and their presence is missed even if they are only out of the classroom for a few days.

Despite this, they shouldn’t get a blanket excusal from service, for several reasons.

One, as mentioned before, is that jury duty, along with voting and paying taxes, is a bedrock civic responsibility in which we all must participate. And though Alaskans might gripe about it (as many do with all three of those responsibilities), the truth is that jury duty reacquaints us with some of the fundamental principles of our society: innocence until guilt is proven, the right not to incriminate one’s self and the right to fair trials regardless of one’s finances. There is great societal value in having those values reinforced through first-hand experience.

The point of jury duty — or one of them, at least — is that it is a great equalizer. Regardless of whether one works a part-time job for minimum wage or runs a multi-million-dollar business, there is no special treatment applied based on social or economic status.

Everyone has to serve, and everyone’s vote counts the same in the jury room. Carving out exemptions to that responsibility is problematic, because it introduces the notion of special status.

How is the absence of a teacher from the classroom, for instance, more consequential than the absence of a university professor? For that matter, is a manager or business president to be given greater consideration because that person directs the activities of their employees?

Creating exceptions based on profession or status is a slippery slope, and each step down it reduces the size and quality of the jury pool.

Furthermore, provisions exist that provide for those who would be unduly inconvenienced by jury service. Permanent exemptions exist for those older than 70 who seek to be excused, as well as those who are mentally or physically disabled. Judicial officers and teachers in low-performing schools are also excused from service (for teachers, this exemption exists only during the school year). The rest of us — including teachers — may petition to have jury service deferred by as much as 10 months because of the hardship or difficulty it would cause. That deferral is sufficient to allow any teacher’s service to be put off until school is out, if desired. Further exemptions aren’t necessary.

While Rep. Colver undoubtedly has good intentions in sponsoring his bill, and preventing classroom disruptions should always be a high priority, exempting teachers from jury service during the school year sends the wrong message and does harm to the notion that all Alaskans must perform their service equally.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, March 6

More in Opinion

Tease
Opinion: Rural broadband is essential infrastructure

Broadband funding is available. The rest is up to Alaskans.

Nurse Sherra Pritchard gives Madyson Knudsen a bandage at the Kenai Public Health Center after the 10-year-old received her first COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: A mom’s and pediatrician’s perspective on COVID-19 vaccines for children

I want to see children and their parents who have yet to get vaccinated roll up their sleeves.

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: State defends its right to cut nonexistent taxes

This from a state that has no property tax on homes or businesses, only on the oil industry.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: The foolish men claiming self-defense

It’s not just misguided teenagers carrying guns who find themselves in trouble with the law.

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.