A jury summons mess.
July 23, 2015 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I was away for a bit, on vacation. During that time, a federal jury summons came in the mail (with no postmark date). I got it today, when I got my big pile of mail that arrived while I was gone. It wants me to report on Monday, July 27th. Monday, July 27th is my first day in a new role/new department at work and I cannot miss it.

Obviously, the answer is a postponement. The Southern District of New York's site is behind the times and does not allow me to request this online. I have already typed a letter requesting a postponement, and put it in the mail along with my summons, as instructed. I did this about an hour ago. However, the summons instructs a person to do this "within five days of receipt." I'm assuming this has sat in my mailbox for over five days.

What's going to happen to me? I really, really can't miss work on that day (I also have put my summons in the mailbox, as instructed, so I don't even have my juror number anymore). If they receive my request for a postponement after the day I was supposed to show up, is there going to be a warrant for my arrest? What do I do!

The worst is that I'm really not trying to get out of jury duty. I think I would enjoy being a juror, especially on a federal case. This really is a bad series of coincidences.
posted by millipede to Law & Government (26 answers total)
True, but two things are (likely) in play here:
1. Inconvenience is not a valid excuse for missing/getting out of jury duty.
2. Your work can neither intimidate you nor retaliate for reporting for jury duty (check your state for details because it varies).

If it were me, I'd start communicating with work to make it clear what's going on and be ready in a note explaining why this will be a hardship and not an inconvenience and be prepared to miss at least half the day.
posted by plinth at 6:01 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can either call them on the phone or go in person tomorrow. Call the jury clerk as follows: Jurors summoned to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse (Manhattan) should contact the Jury Clerk in Manhattan (212 805-0179) and jurors summoned to the Hon. Charles L. Brieant Jr. Courthouse (White Plains) should contact the Jury Clerk in White Plains (914-390-4014). (from here)

Explain that you were traveling, you just received the summons, and you sent in a request for postponement. They will likely tell you that you'll just get another summons for a later date, but if it will ease your mind, go ahead and call. Anecdote: I physically went in to request a second postponement because the first one got rescheduled for my wedding day, and they were very accommodating.
posted by bedhead at 6:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

Not a big deal. Just answer the next summons.
posted by JPD at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I had a similar situation come up at work, there was a number I could call to actually talk to someone. I think I did this twice, and what I said was something like this: "I believe it is my civic duty to participate in jury duty, however, things are crazy at work. Would it be possible to postpone?" In both cases, I was able to postpone on the spot over the phone. Then I showed up the next two times, and never was on a trial. However, I found that calling and not having contempt for the system and acknowledging my civil obligation was a pretty good combination. If you are able to call and talk to someone, you might find that you are able to resolve your situation quickly. I do note that your situation is in New York, and mine was in California.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:07 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

It is going to be OK; your request for deferral will be granted. I deferred multiple times due to my teaching schedule when I was in NY. They will go after people whole flagrantly avoid serving, but they want/need people to participate in the process and are willing to work with you (within reason).

One tip though: when I went to ask for deferral #3, I said something along the lines of what you said here about how I actually *wanted* to serve and so on, and the guy stopped stamping whatever paper he was stamping and said, "Do you have any idea how many times I hear that each day?!! Do you want me to deny your request?!" So maybe don't say that to any courthouse staff member you end up speaking to.
posted by girl flaneur at 6:21 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just want to reiterate that showing up is not an option, especially since I no longer have my summons with my juror ID and specific room to go to. As I stated, it is in a mailbox. Also, inconvenience is a perfectly valid excuse for a postponement. I have no doubt my postponement would have been granted had I received the letter in time and thus replied to it in time. My question is about what will happen if they have not received the postponement by the date of service. Serving is not possible.
posted by millipede at 6:29 PM on July 23, 2015

I only went downtown to see them in person because I was requesting my third or fourth deferral. The earlier ones I either wrote or called a number.

If this is your first summons, I promise you will be fine! They don't have the resources to "punish" you for not answering by the due date, and they understand that people go away on vacation. You can cross this off your list for now.
posted by girl flaneur at 6:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's great that you sent the summons back.

You're finished. Stop worrying.
posted by jbenben at 7:05 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, inconvenience is a perfectly valid excuse for a postponement.

If that's directed to plinth, I think s/he meant the court will not see it as valid.

Anyway, I found this:

If you are seeking to be permanently excused, mail the summons, the completed update card, a full note of explanation and any supporting documentation, such as a doctor’s note, certificate of prior jury service or proof of a new address (yellow postal forwarding sticker, copy of a new drivers license or utility bill).

Due to the large volume of mail, you will not receive a reply to your letter and you do not have to appear on the date of the summons. If your request is denied or the Court has any further questions, you will be contacted at a later date by mail.

If it were me, I'd call tomorrow to just to say I'd been out of town, just got the summons and just mailed the request in yesterday. And ask them what happens if they don't receive the request by Monday. And put me in the "it will be fine" boat. I'm sure they get it that notices are delayed sometimes. I think that's partially why they send out so many notices and end up requiring only a small portion of the people who show up. Good luck with your new gig!
posted by Beti at 7:06 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Call your employer, show them the copy of the letter, and see what they say.

Let them know that you just found the letter. It will be okay. This kind of stuff happens and HR knows how to deal with it without blaming you or taking it out on you.
posted by discopolo at 7:45 PM on July 23, 2015

What are they going to do to you? Probably nothing. You can call and say you received the summons while you were on vacation, and you just sent notice back that you cannot miss work that day, if there is a number to call. I accidentally ignored a New York state summons -- just never replied or showed up -- and nothing happened to me. The other times I was asked to do jury duty, I just sent a response saying that I couldn't because I had to work, or because I would be out of the country or something. It's not like they hunt you down and demand a better explanation or proof that you are busy.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:11 PM on July 23, 2015

I find in these situations that it is best to play dumb. You mailed in the summons, gosh golly, that's all you thought you had to do. You got something saying you still had to show up - that darn mailman, always losing your mail! Shucks!
posted by Toddles at 8:41 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Call the office!
I had something similar happen and the Federal court was very accommodating and postponed my service.
This was after I missed the first notice entirely and about three weeks after I was first supposed to appear in court.
posted by calgirl at 9:29 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're going to be fine, but in the future, always keep a copy of official paperwork. Always.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:44 AM on July 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

These things always come down to the judge's discretion about how strictly to penalize people who do not comply with the instructions properly/do not show/plead inconvenience. In my experience, the majority of judges just postpone you to a future summons date. It would be rare for any punitive action to be taken for non compliance, but it is in the spectrum of possibility. If you think there would be more damage done by blowing off the job than the remote chance of court repercussions for not showing, I would pick the job personally. Repeat offenders are on whom they drop the hammer typically.
posted by incolorinred at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2015

"Also, inconvenience is a perfectly valid excuse for a postponement. "
Not according to the judge I spoke to.
posted by plinth at 5:47 AM on July 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

This is from Scotland, but here's my experience.

I've been summoned three times in the last 9 months. First time I was scheduled to go abroad for work. No prob. Second time I was due to work on big event that week. No prob. Third time I was late in getting the summons and it collided with my first week off in six months. Guess what? No prob,

I'm happy to do jury duty when it doesn't collide with things. I have been on duty two other times. Second time a friend from abroad came on a surprise visit and I told the judge. Guess what? No prob.
posted by kariebookish at 6:03 AM on July 24, 2015

Inconvenience is, in fact, a perfectly valid excuse for a postponement. That's actually what postponements are for. What inconvenience is not a valid excuse for is a permanent excusal from jury duty, i.e., something like "Sorry, my clients are really demanding and need me available 24/7 so I can't serve on a jury" or "Someone has to pick up my kids from school so I can't serve on a jury." That's probably what the judge meant. Postponements are granted routinely for fairly minor reasons.

But yeah, OP, I actually wouldn't worry about this; if it's your first request, no one at the courthouse will give you a hard time. People who work in the courthouse usually try to be accomodating to members of the public. Just get someone on the phone and politely explain the situation, and they'll let you move your service. Really, I can almost promise you it's nothing to stress too hard about.
posted by holborne at 6:36 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend found a jury duty summons in NY (state, not federal) in her old mail after the date had already passed. She called them up and got it rescheduled, no other repercussions. You'll be fine -- they'll get back in touch with you and figure it out.
posted by goingonit at 7:36 AM on July 24, 2015

In the future, please keep a copy of whatever you send to a court. A summons will often include information about the consequences of ignoring it or playing dumb about your legal obligations.

especially since I no longer have my summons with my juror ID and specific room to go to.

You can obtain this information by contacting the court clerk, so while this is not legal advice, not keeping a copy of your paperwork doesn't sound like a credible reason to not show up. AskMe can't give you legal advice about the specific consequences that you may face for not showing up, or exactly what you need to do in this specific situation. If you want legal advice, you can Get a lawyer.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:58 AM on July 24, 2015

It isn't your call whether your excuse is valid, it is the court's. And a summons is a legally binding document. Don't let your surprise and irritation overwhelm your common sense.

Having said that, my advice is to call the court's jury room and explain what's up and ask for a new date to report. If they get starchy (most unlikely, they'll probably just set a new date for you) talk to your employer about what is going on. Once you have a new date, plan to show up and be available to be a juror.

There isn't much citizenship service in the US -- military service and jury service are it. They are both pretty vital.
posted by bearwife at 9:09 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had a somewhat similar situation quite a few years ago. I had gotten the notice of jury duty (local not federal) and was prepared to serve. Then I got a new job which required travel. A call to the appropriate office got me excused with only a little bit of scolding.
posted by maurice at 9:48 AM on July 24, 2015

Response by poster: I called the number bedhead found. They were extremely accommodating and said it was no big deal at all to postpone.

Thank you for your help!
posted by millipede at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I got it today, when I got my big pile of mail that arrived while I was gone.

"within five days of receipt."

If you had your mail on hold while you were on vacation, ask at your local Post Office if you can get a copy of the Hold Mail request.

That will prove you responded to the summons "within five days of receipt," since you only received it today.

Also, call the courthouse, and explain that you only just received the summons and have requested a postponement as instructed.
posted by tckma at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2015

I've never had a federal jury summons, only the county/civil-level "normal jury duty" ones. However, one thing I thought about - they don't send the summonses via any sort of registered/delivery-confirmation (just USPS); so how can anyone prove that you received / read the summons?

(I've always gone, twice so far, and never even got to the point of being in a pool; sat around and read books on my phone all day and then they said "we have everyone we need, the rest of you are free to go").
posted by mrbill at 12:24 PM on July 24, 2015

Some related anecdata that will hopefully help ease your mind:
I received a jury summons at my parents' house (in NY state) a few years back. At that point, I hadn't been a NY resident in over 5 years. In fact, I'd lived in two different states in that time. My NY drivers license was long expired and I didn't have any important mail going to their address, so there was absolutely no reason for anyone to think I was still a resident of NY. I don't think they keep very updated records and just send out way more notices than they actually need, assuming that x% of people won't report for whatever reason. If my parents didn't still live there and it was instead some random apartment I'd rented and vacated long ago, and that notice arrived, the new residents would have probably thrown it out, I never would have known about it, and I highly, highly doubt I would have gotten into any sort of trouble for not showing.

(n.b. - My parents and I did get it straightened out by sending proof that I lived in a different state, but everyone we spoke with seemed pretty unconcerned about the whole thing. I gathered that it happens a lot)
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2015

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