Prospective jurors for Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas trials will start receiving a different type of notice next week designed to speed up processing and save tens of thousands of dollars annually on postage, printing and staff time, according to court representatives.
The new system allows jurors to answer required questions about their background online or through an automated telephone line, eliminating the need to fill out forms when they arrive for jury duty.
“We’re tremendously excited about this modernization of our jury system,” said county President Judge Richard Hughes. “We see it as a win all the way around for residents of Luzerne County.”
Approximately 21,000 residents are summoned for county jury duty annually. Their names are randomly selected from a list compiled by the state based on records from taxes, housing, benefit programs, driver’s licenses, voter registration and other sources, county officials said.
The county entered into a contract earlier this year to obtain the jury management system from Tyler, Texas-based Judicial Systems Inc. for $114,000 through February 2021, which includes software, installation and maintenance, upgrades, staff training, ongoing technical assistance and a warranty, officials said.
Court officials selected Judicial Systems after an exhaustive, one-year process that started with public requests for proposals and included presentations by six prospective companies, said county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky. Court jury staffers also visited two other counties to compare systems and queried courts throughout the state on their experience with prospective vendors, he said.
The software will replace an outdated homemade system that is more than 18 years old, which is prone to breakdowns, inefficient and costly, Shucosky said.
Deputy Court Administrator Marlene Marriggi held up an example of the current notification that must be folded by a special machine that also regularly breaks down. Recipients must mail it back at an additional cost to the county.
When prospective jurors arrive for duty, court workers must search for their number in the computer, check their identification and present a clipboard with questions about their background that must be filled out for civil or criminal trials — or both depending on the mix that must be filled that week, Marriggi said.
As this process unfolds, the line of jurors usually grows, and workers must then collect and sort these forms by hand, she said.
“It’s pretty cumbersome,” Marriggi said.
With the new system, a postcard will be sent containing both juror and electronic signature numbers that must be entered through a link on the county website to answer questions and submit other data that would normally be handled by mail and on the morning of jury duty.
The postcards, which are cheaper to print and don’t have to be mailed back, also contain bar codes that allow court workers to instantly check in jurors, Marriggi said.
Recipients who don’t have computers can call the interactive phone service listed on the card to answer questions.
“The whole idea is to not have anymore paper flowing through our system,” Marriggi said.
Shucosky estimated the county will save more than $40,000 annually in postage alone.
Those summoned may use the system to communicate requests for transfers to a new service date, work-related issues and medical or economic concerns that may excuse them from serving. Jurors typically serve two or three days based upon the nature of the proceeding, court officials said.
Eventually a module will be activated allowing the court to text jurors to inform them of weather or emergency-related court delays or case settlements that end their requirement to report back for service.
Court Jury Administrator Mary Malone logged on to demonstrate the system, which provides customized directions to the courthouse, the option to email court staff with questions, streamlined questions that must be answered and the option to correct address information.
“We’re hoping the public will be just as excited about it,” Malone said.
Shucosky said the personal information entered through the site will be secure.
The court sends out jury notices six weeks in advance, which means all jurors will be processed under the new system by the end of June, he said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.