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A conversation with Jackson County jury coordinator Jackie Niciporek

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Jackie Niciporek loves her job but gets frustrated with the number of county residents who don’t respond to a jury summons.

“. . . the courtroom it is a different world. It is exciting to sit there and listen to the attorneys and the judge.”

By Monetta Harr –Lifestyle writer

There is nothing set in stone for Jackie Niciporek’s work life.

In fact, her calendar can get washed away quicker than outdoor plans in an autumn rain.

Niciporek has been the Jackson County Jury Coordinator for 16 years. That means:

  • She sends out thousands of questionnaires to potential county residents to serve a week on jury duty;
  • She gets jury pools for nine judges, four district and five circuit;
  • She answers to the chief judge, currently Thomas Wilson.

While her calendar is nearly always filled with upcoming trials, they can get postponed or pleaded out even minutes before they were supposed to start. So she never knows what to expect.

This is stressful, no doubt. But Niciporek said, “I’ve always loved my job. I love to talk to people, I love to educate them how important it is to be a juror.”

In fact, during jury orientation, when as many as 50 potential jurors have to appear at a certain time in the morning on the fifth floor of the Jackson County Courthouse, Niciporek paints a bright picture for them.

“I explain that when they get in the courtroom it is a different world. It is exciting to sit there and listen to the attorneys and the judge. I have seen so many people’s mindset start to change,” said Niciporek, 53.

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The whole process begins months in advance. Until last March, the county used a two-step process, mailing 6,000 questionnaires every three months to potential jurors chosen at random, asking them to fill them out and return them in the postage-paid envelope. From that information, the number of jurors was culled by eliminating people over age 70 if they didn’t want to serve (many still do), if they had a medical excuse (signed by a doctor) and other issues, such as a planned vacation.

“But only 40 percent of those 6,000 were returned, so imagine how much money the county taxpayers were spending on wasted postage,” said Niciporek.

New software has created a one-step process, something used in many other larger cities in Michigan, as well as for federal trials. Now a jury summons is mailed to potential jurors, but they don’t fill out a questionnaire. This system, said Niciporke, “saves thousands of dollars in postage.”

However, “my ‘failure to appear’ has skyrocketed. It has tripled. When before I might have 10 not show, now I have 30,” she said.

Reasons are across the board, from people saying they didn’t get in in the mail to people simply ignoring it. Only once in Niciporek’s tenure has a low turnout been disastrous. Last November there was a high profile case that required even more potential jurors than normal and they ran out of jurors. A mistrial was declared, the judge was furious and fined everyone who didn’t show up $200 . . . and they still had to do jury service another week.

There is a little give and take in the system. Prospective jurors can make a phone call in advance to Niciporek to let her know that week is inconvenient for whatever reason and she will postpone it to a different week. But don’t call Monday morning the week of jury service.

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For no-shows, a bench order is issued and the person can be arrested at a traffic stop or other situation. Consider the woman who had a bench warrant for three years until she wanted to go into Canada. Border patrol noticed the bench warrant, arrested her and she was fined $500.

These days Niciporek summons 250 jurors a week, far more than is needed, but she never knows how many will appear. If people do come in or call in advance, Niciporek keeps notes and voice mails that she is able to play for the judge if they don’t show.

Standing before a judge pleading to not be fined is a lot different than a flippant voice mail left for Niciporek.

“My judges always have my back,” she said.

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