The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 5, 2011

Hatcher fines no-show jurors

Finding enough folks to fill a jury box is a tough endeavor in these busy times, but seven women and one man failing to show in the court of Fayette County Circuit Judge John W. Hatcher Jr. aren’t likely to ever forget their civic duty again.

Hatcher fined all eight $50 apiece last week after they neglected to appear before him at the March 15 trial of Charles Stone of Smithers, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial.

Stone faced charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, entry of a dwelling, also a felony, and the misdemeanor offense of stealing $75.

Since Hatcher’s decision to fine the eight prospective jurors, the victim in the alleged crimes, who was in his 70s, has died.

“I explained to them what was to have happened that day and we couldn’t pick a jury because we didn’t have enough people,” the veteran judge said Monday.

“And how important it was. It’s their court system, not mine.”

One by one, the eight stood before the judge to give an account of themselves, and for one reason or another, told him they simply forgot to call in.

“At least two of the ladies were tearful,” the judge said. “And everyone apologized to the court. I said, ‘I’m glad you said to the court, because it’s not to me as a person. It’s to the institution.’ They were all respectful of the process. They all said that they regretted their mistake. I was very impressed by them. But nevertheless, I felt that I had to do what I did.”

Under state law, Hatcher could have imposed maximum fines of $1,000. Years ago, Hatcher imposed similar fines on nine people who didn’t appear for jury duty.

“We had 22 people there and we needed 30,” he said.

“We had to pay the 22 at $40 a day. That’s $880, not counting their mileage, which is 51 cents a mile, round trip.”

No decision has been made, but Stone’s day in court could be rescheduled, adding to the expense of his case.

“A large number of people, too many people, want off jury duty,” Hatcher said.

“And the excuses they give to try to get off. Some are very legitimate excuses but some of them are just laughable to think I would believe it. One woman wrote in and wanted off jury duty because she couldn’t make decisions affecting other people’s lives.”

Her occupation is that of a babysitter.

So the judge wrote back, “I’m baffled by the reason you want off. Because, being a grandfather, I know that babysitting requires you to make decisions about other people’s lives every few minutes.”

Some have advised the judge they cannot serve since they don’t believe in capital punishment, which was stricken from the West Virginia Code back in 1965.

“Some say their religion doesn’t permit them to judge other people because the Bible says, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,’” Hatcher said.

“Years ago, you could just go down the street and pick up some people. It’s really disheartening to see the number of people who really do not want to serve. But I’ve had people to write or come by and see me and say they were really glad they did, ‘that I learned a lot and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.’”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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