Snohomish County municipal courts experiencing juror shortage

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — The pandemic led to a backlog of court cases throughout Washington, but some Snohomish County municipal courts are facing an additional challenge: missing jurors.

“What I find most frustrating is when we’re preparing for jury service and then I have to go tell the judge I don’t have enough jurors for you to move forward,” said Suzanne Elsner, court administrator for Marysville Municipal Court.

Elsner says municipal courts in both Marysville and Edmonds have had to delay trials because not enough people arrive for jury duty. Six jurors are needed for trial, but courts need at least 12 for the selection process.

“We send out reminder letters, so I just mailed those this morning — 18 or 20 reminder letters to the people that haven’t yet responded to say, ‘Hey, you’ve been summoned. You’re still expected to appear, and you haven’t been excused,’” said Elsner.

Marysville does day-of jury selection, so when enough potential jurors don’t show up, everything comes to a halt.

“The attorneys are here, the defendant, the witnesses are here, the officers are here. Everybody is here, ready to go except the jurors,” said Elsner.

For municipal courts, it can cause a delay or dismissal of misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases, like DUIs, domestic violence and theft.

“So those are really community related. So when you don’t show up for jury duty it affects the community, because you may have a domestic violence victim who’s been waiting for her day or his day in court. And if jurors don’t show up, you’re affecting that individual and that family, and the person being charged,” said Elsner.

“No show” jurors can face a misdemeanor charge under Washington law, though Marysville is taking a softer approach for now.

“Normally what we’ve done is we’ve put their name back into the jury pool and we will summon them again, sort of as a reminder as, ‘Hey, you didn’t show up this time. Here’s your new jury summons and we expect you to be here’”, said Elsner.

In Washington, employers are not mandated to pay their employees while serving on jury duty. For that reason, Elsner says she does see some requests for excusal because of financial hardship. However, she says that’s not the case for all the jurors who fail to appear. She says many people don’t respond to the summons and then don’t show up on trial day.