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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

HB 2385

Relating to
Jury Service

House Committee on Health (HLT) - chair: Green, vice chair: Mizuno

Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 11:45 a.m. Conference Room 329

Testifier: JoAnn Maruoka, Legislative Team member, LWV of Hawaii

Click here to view HB2385

The League of Women Voters opposes H.B. 2385, as we do its companion S.B. 2064, to add psychologists as yet another group that is exempt from jury service. We do not believe that it is in the best interest of the public to automatically grant a blanket exemption to psychologists. The existing process allows people with valid reasons to be excused from jury duty, and we feel this is sufficient. There does not appear to be a sound reason for this additional exemption.

Rather, we believe the need is for a broad and diverse jury pool comprised of all citizens who are qualified to serve. This is certainly of great importance to litigants. It also helps ensure that citizens have an equal opportunity to serve their community by participating in the trial process. After all, jury service represents one of our most important civic responsibilities as citizens.

As of January 1, 2008 New York State repealed all 27 former exemptions and disqualifications for jury duty, which included doctors, dentists, and psychologists, as well as clergymen, lawyers, elected officials, judges and others. The New York legislation, sponsored by the state senator who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is expected to increase the pool of potential jurors in the state, by number and by professions represented, and to effectively increase fairness. In 2006, Indiana made a legislative change to drop all exemptions that previously allowed entire categories of people to avoid jury service, and the Indiana Chief Justice said that the change means that Indiana's juries will include a more representative group of people than ever before. The New York and Indiana examples may indicate that states are rethinking their jury exemptions. In any case, we certainly believe that Hawaii should not further reduce its jury pool by adding an exemption for psychologists.

We urge you to hold H.B. 2385. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

New York: The legislation, which was sponsored by State Senator James J. Lack who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, should have the effect of increasing the pool of potential jurors in the state, both by number and by the professions represented. As Sen Lack said, "It is a civic duty. This is America. It's a democracy. And within our judicial system you are entitled to a jury of your peers in civil and criminal matters. And that should be a reality."

The repeal of exemptions is particularly important in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, say the Commissioners of Jurors in both counties, more so than in other parts of New York State, because as many as one-third of Long Island's residents have been exempt from jury duty because of their white-collar professions, particularly doctors, dentists and lawyers. Both counties, they say, have high percentages of these professions represented.

"The effect here in Nassau was particularly devastating," Commissioner DeVivo said. "That caused many, many people to have to serve more often. Besides the fact, our jury panels were lacking in a particular significant group, highly educated professional people."

Michael O'Donohoe, Commissioner of Jurors in Suffolk County, said under the old exemptions, Suffolk also lost a third of all potential jurors. "This broadens the base of jurors," he said of the new law. "It's a better reflection of what we're made up of."

Some of the professions that used to provide people with exemptions and disqualifications before last week, but which are no longer exempt or disqualified, are doctors, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists, clergymen, lawyers, elected officials, judges, nurses, psychologists, podiatrists, embalmers, physical therapists and members of the armed forces.

Indiana: A key part of the measure is the removal of all exemptions that previously allowed entire categories of people, even ferry boat operators, to avoid jury service. Those categories included people over 65, veterinarians, dentists, law enforcement officers, legislators, armed services personnel, elected or appointed government officials, Indianapolis Public School Board members, firefighters, and corrections officers. Ferry boat operators had enjoyed the exemption since 1881 but now the boatmen and the others will lose their automatic exemption


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