Milwaukee County residents now can be fined $500 for ignoring a jury duty summons. Until Jan. 1, no-shows could be fined only $40, an amount court officials thought too low and perhaps the reason 40 percent of those summoned didn’t respond last year, sayst he Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The envelope containing the summons was changed to make it look more inviting, in large part an effort to encourage more minorities to serve on juries. “We thought that if we changed the envelope it wouldn’t look like trouble,” said Kitty Brennan, an appellate court judge who was then Milwaukee’s chief judge.
Clerk of Courts John Barrett said follow-up letters were sent in an effort to convince recipients of the joy of jury duty. There was some improvement but still, the non-response was high. “I think this will catch people’s attention,” Barrett said of the new letter that mentions the $500 fine. A follow-up program on the non-responses resulted in a 28 percent increase in the number of minorities serving since 2006. The large number of no-shows got attention in 2006 when an all-white jury acquitted three white Milwaukee police officers of brutally beating a biracial man at a house party. The officers were later convicted in federal court of violating his civil rights and went to prison.