Should Dallas County crack down on deadbeat jurors?
EL PASO — El Paso County does not mess around... at least not when it comes to deadbeat jurors like Fernando Valdez.
When Valdez missed jury service and ignored a summons to explain himself to a judge, the county issued a warrant for his arrest.
Did he know how seriously they take jury duty in El Paso County? "Uh, no. I actually... I didn't," Valdez said.
Sending deadbeat jurors to jail seems harsh, but it works. In El Paso County, jurors show up.
It's a tactic that's drawn the attention of officials in Dallas County, which has a no-show problem of its own.
"A summons to jury duty is not an invitation; it is a command," explained Judge Martin Lowy, the Administrative District Judge in Dallas County who has studied the El Paso method and is implementing it here.
So, is it possible there will be citizens of Dallas County who are arrested for not showing up to jury duty? "It's not only possible, I feel confident it will happen," he said.
Here's the problem.
In Dallas County, of every 10 residents called for jury duty, only two show up.
That's not how it is out west in El Paso, says court administrator Mike Izquierdo. Thirteen years ago, the county had about a 17 percent show rate.
"It's between 80 and 90 percent participation," Izquierdo said.
How'd they get there? With twice-a-day, five-days-a-week "Jury Duty Court," where delinquent jurors appear to be treated fairly, but firmly.
"I'm gonna assess a $150 fine, sir, and ask you to be more careful in the future. Please obey the law," Judge Jerry Woodard said to a delinquent juror during one recent court session.
Izquierdo says the word is out in El Paso, and most people don't want to end up like Marisol Campos, who got arrested three months ago and had to face Judge Woodard.
"The constables came in unmarked cars and they arrested me right outside of my house, and they took me away from my son, which was six months at the time. It was terrible," Campos said.
Between fines and court costs, the county says the program pays for itself. And the program's success means everyone in El Paso county gets called less frequently for jury duty.
That's why, back in Dallas County, they've quietly been calling in delinquent jurors to explain themselves to a judge.
By the end of June, the county will begin assessing fines and court costs. And then — once a juror ignores a judge's summons to explain themselves three times in a row — it will time for some El Paso-style justice.