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Scanners, Bar Codes Help Ease Jurors’ Burden

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County officials say they are making it easier for the hundreds of people summoned to jury duty each week.

Like cans of beans at a supermarket checkout, prospective jurors are getting through the system faster thanks to electronic scanners and bar-coded badges.

“It’s going to speed up every process at every level,” said Betty Kane, manager of jury services. “It’s more accurate, and it avoids lines when jurors check in.”

The bar-code system, which will be fully operational by April 1, is part of a $110,000 package of improvements aimed at easing the burden for the 176,000 people called to jury duty each year.

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The improvements include a simplified questionnaire for prospective jurors, replacing a form “that you need a master’s degree to figure out,” Kane said.

By next year, the new system may be programmed so it does not call some people to jury duty year after year while others are never called.

Each week, Kane’s seven-member staff sends out questionnaires to about 4,000 people asking whether they are able and willing to be jurors.

About 75% have valid reasons to be excused or do not qualify for jury service--typically because they lack citizenship, are not 18 years old or do not understand English.

What’s considered a valid excuse has changed over the years. There are no more statutory exemptions, which used to keep judges, peace officers and active-duty military personnel off juries. People who live more than 90 minutes away from the Hall of Justice can get out of jury service, as can those who lack transportation, have a financial hardship or claim a physical or mental disability.

Those who qualify are eventually told to report to the Hall of Justice in Ventura with their bar-coded identification badges, which they have received with their questionnaires. Kane says the goal of the system is to keep people at the courthouse no more than one full day unless they get on a jury, which could be a commitment of many weeks.

“We have tried to reduce the term of service,” Kane said. “If they’re not on a case at the end of the day, we try to release them, depending on the needs of the court.”

The new computer system will speed up payment of the $5 a day plus one-way mileage that jurors receive, Kane said.

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Under the current system, a resident can expect to be called to jury duty about once every three years, Kane said. But since it’s a random system, some are called every year while others are never called.

Next year, Kane said, the new computer system may be programmed so it does not pick anyone who has served as a juror in the past 12 months, Kane said. “But the judges have to approve that,” she said.

Kane, who has worked with prospective jurors for 17 years, said most of them seem to enjoy the experience, and sometimes lasting friendships are formed.

In fact, she said, “that’s how I met my husband.”

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