People from Kern County upset about summons for jury duty in Fresno

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -  

It's one of our most important civic duties, but it's also causing headaches for some.

People in Kern County could be summoned for federal jury duty in Fresno even though a multi-million dollar courthouse was built in Bakersfield less than a year ago.

The Bakersfield Courthouse is big enough for a full size jury, but there aren’t many jury trials held there. That’s why people like Judi Martin are being summoned for jury duty in Fresno.

"It's not convenient for work, for lifestyle for anything,” said Judi Martin.

Despite not having to appear earlier this week, Martin is still on call the rest of the month. That’s an inconvenience that would be eased if she could stay in Bakersfield.

"Being summoned here in Bakersfield doesn't affect your work schedule and life as much as it does having to drive two hours away."

23ABC put a call into California’s Eastern District Court to find out how people are chosen and why they have to make their way up to Fresno.

Jury Administrator Heather Mabe told 23ABC the Fresno division of the Eastern District of California encompasses the counties of Calaveras, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Inyo, Kings, Tulare and Kern. Mabe said only by having jurors called from all counties in the division can they protect litigants’ constitutional right to have a jury of their peers.

 "Jurors residing in Bakersfield would not necessarily be summoned for that courthouse. The process is a random selection for either court and would include persons from all counties within the division. This is the same process as in state court where jurors from Ridgecrest or Taft may serve in Bakersfield,” said Jury Administrator Heather Mabe.

The federal courthouse in Bakersfield was also never intended to hear felony jury trials like the courthouse in Fresno does.

“Also because we only have one judge in Bakersfield and six in Fresno there are more trials happening in Fresno which requires more jurors to be called to appear at that court,” said Mabe.

U.S.  Magistrate Judge Jennifer L. Thurston told 23ABC they planned to do a lot more at the Bakersfield Courthouse, but they can't afford to because of the forced government spending cuts. It’s also less expensive to send Judge Thurston to Fresno for a big case than it would be to bring staff to Bakersfield.

But, Judge Thurston told 23ABC there is a civil trial scheduled at the Bakersfield Courthouse in July.

So if you have received a questionnaire recently it doesn’t mean you’ll be summoned, but if you are there’s a chance you will have to make the drive to Fresno.

Mabe told 23ABC qualified jurors could receive a summons as soon as October 2013 or as late as September 2014.

Anyone who is summoned and has to travel at least 80 miles from their home to the court will receive $147.00 for hotel, meals and incidental expenses. Jurors also receive 56.5 cents per miles, round trip, to cover transportation expenses.

For more information on jury service for the Eastern District visit www.caed.uscourts.gov

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