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Escambia jury selection feels loss of funding

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Publisher
Getting out of jury duty in Escambia County will be tougher than ever this year, as the circuit court pulls jurors from a smaller pool than in the past to comply with state mandated funding cuts.
The court has a term of civil court beginning Monday, Jan. 26. Whereas it would normally call on 250 or so Escambia Countians as potential jurors, this time the court plans to reduce that number by roughly a third.
Since the pool from which jurors will be drawn is now smaller, it will likely take a better excuse than in the past to keep from serving.
The cost of seating juries in the county has never been a big expense. In a typical year, the court might spend in the neighborhood of $8,000 calling and choosing jurors.
But the Escambia County court system, like court systems statewide, has received a mandate from the state to cut spending -- the result of the Legislature having slashed funding to Alabama's courts by 10 percent.
That's led to belt-tightening in a number of areas, including jury costs.
Rather than issuing jury summons to about 250 citizens, the court will be calling on about 170 from throughout the county. From that reduced jury pool, judges need to find enough jurors to fill two jury panels. Each panel requires a minimum of 24 jurors per panel, but the ideal number would be somewhere in the mid-30s, Byrnes said.
From the panels that are selected will come the 12-person juries to hear civil cases during his term of court.
The court is also taking other measures to save here and there in the area of jury costs. For instance, the 18-person grand jury empaneled to meet this past October is again being called together, to avoid the cost of empaneling a new grand jury.
The court typically has to call at least 50 potential jurors to find 18 able to serve on a grand jury, Byrne said.
In general, Byrne said he is hopeful they can work around the new jury procedures without it slowing down the court's business. "We're going to do everything we can to keep it from slowing us down," he said.