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The Dead and the Young: Called for Jury Duty

The folks getting summoned for jury duty in Luzerne County are a bit bizarre.

One was dead.

Another is a 12-year-old boy!

Not exactly a jury of one’s peers for a trial.

Officials in Luzerne County say it happens elsewhere too.

They blame the mess ups on the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which recently made moves to widen the jury pool; moves that may have backfired.

Just before Christmas, Ed Jones of Duryea went to his mailbox and received a summons from the Luzerne County Court, addressed to his mother-in-law Florence Skowronski, for jury duty.

He ignored it.

Then another summons to Mrs. Skowronski came in February.

“If you receive a summons, but neglect or fail to respond, you may be ordered to show just cause why you should not be held in contempt of court,” read Jones from the official letter.

But Florence Skowronski wasn`t about to serve on any jury.  She died December 2010, a full year before she received her summons.

“What`s going on?” asked Jones.

Across the county in Swoyersville. 12-year-old Connor Smith got a similar summons.

“My parents just said to me, ‘you`re on jury duty,'” said the pre-teen who will enter seventh grade later this month.  “And I was totally confused there.”

At the Luzerne County Courthouse, many people from kids, to relatives of the recently deceased are confused.

“Sometimes they`re irate about it,” said County Jury Supervisor Dan Tedesco. “But we let them know that in no way do they have to serve jury duty.”

Tedesco says these mistaken summons result from a change mandated by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

In the past, County courts drew jurors from a list of registered voters, and licensed drivers.

But a year ago, the state added people who pay income taxes, people on public assistance programs from medicare to food stamps, to educational assistance.

“The list will include people who should not be jurors,” added Tedesco.

“How did they get his name?” asked Lisa Smith, the mother of 12-year-old Connor who worried when she saw the summons for her son.

“At first, I got a little scared thinking: identity theft.” Lisa Smith said.  “Seriously, because who registered as a voter in his name or something like that.”

“Our fine county,” said Ed Jones with a laugh, wanting to know how his mother-in-law, who died in 2010 made the jury pool.

Luzerne County Court Officials told us the list from the state is often a year or two out of date.

“I hope they send the sheriff`s over for this,” said Jones.  “I`ll take them to the cemetery to show them where she`s laying.”

Ed Jones says this is no laughing matter. He says he`d do his civic duty if called to be a juror, but he fears fewer people will take a jury summons seriously, knowing they are in a pool with dead people and 12-year-olds.


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