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Have You Been Called for Jury Duty?

By: Cheryl Morrissey


We frequently receive inquiries about jury duty. Employees generally want to know their obligations and rights and many clients want to know if they can be excused. To answer these questions, we have prepared the following outline of jury selection procedures in Bergen County. These procedures were updated after Governor Whitman signed new legislation about jury service last June.

The Jury Summons

If you receive a jury summons from Bergen County, you must sign and return the enclosed questionnaire within ten days. Failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $500.00 or punishment for contempt of court. The questionnaire asks for background information like your occupation. That information is used to prepare lists that are given to the judge and attorneys when jurors are being chosen for a particular trial.

Your summons will show the phone number of Jury Service Information. You are to call that number the day before your scheduled appearance to receive instructions. Occasionally, prospective jurors are told at that point that their service is not needed. More often, they are told exactly when and where to appear and what to bring with them.

Bergen county's policy is "one day or one trial". If you appear on your designated day and are not chosen to sit on a jury, your duty is ended. If you are chosen to sit on a jury, your service is ended when the trial is over. A trial may end when the jury gives its verdict, but it is not uncommon for a case to settle or be dismissed for other reasons before that point. The judge will give you an idea of the anticipated length of a trial during the selection process.

Exemption From Jury Service

You may request an exemption from jury service by completing the "Remarks" section on the jury summons questionnaire. You can receive one postponement if you are temporarily unavailable because of vacation, illness, or the like. You may also be excused from jury duty if you fall into one of the following categories enumerated in the jury service statute:

  • You are 75 years of age or older;
  • You have served within the first three years in the same county in which the juror is again being summoned;
  • Jury service will impose a severe hardship to you. Examples of severe hardship include medical and financial reasons;
  • You have a personal obligation to care for others, including the sick and dependent children;
  • You are a volunteer firefighter or first aid squad member;
  • You provide highly specialized technical health care service for which replacement cannot be reasonably obtained;
  • You are a health care worker directly involved in the care of a handicapped person, and your continued presence is essential to that person's regular and personal treatment;
  • You are a full-time member of the instructional staff at a grammar school or high school, are summoned during the school term, and a replacement cannot be easily obtained; or
  • You are a volunteer member of a fire department, fire patrol, first aid or rescue squad.

Remember that there is a distinction between being excused from service in general and being excused from service on a particular trial. All of the people who are required to appear for service pursuant to a jury summons are not actually chosen for trials. You must respond to the summons even if you think there are good reasons that you will not be selected. (Even trial lawyers are called for jury duty now!)

Employment Protection

An employer must keep open the job of an employee serving on a jury, irrespective of the length of jury service. If an employer takes any adverse action against an employee (e.g. demotion or termination) because the employee is called to serve as a State Court juror, the employer can be charged with a Disorderly Persons offense.

The employee may also bring a civil action for damages suffered as a result of the employer's criminal violation. The remedies available to an aggrieved employee include reinstatement and money damages. An employee has just ninety days from the date of the employer's violation, or the completion of jury service, whichever is later, to file a civil action. If the employee prevails, he or she will be entitled to reasonable counsel fees.

The jury service law does not require an employer to pay an employee's regular salary while he or she is serving as a juror. (Jurors receive a nominal fee for service from the Court.) However, many employers do. It is important to understand that the jury service law does not distinguish between large and small companies. All employers, regardless of their size, must comply with it.

Cheryl Morrissey is a Partner at WJ&L, LLP, and is the chairperson of the Litigation Department.Cheryl specializes in commercial and civil litigation and family law.

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