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COUNTY CRACKS DOWN ON JURY-DUTY EVADERS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

SAN FERNANDO - For 20 years, Woodrow Crenshaw has opened his Superior Court jury summonses - and tossed them in the trash.

On Thursday, his summons finally caught up with him.

As part of a Los Angeles countywide crackdown on thousands of jury-duty shirkers, a judge ordered Crenshaw and other potential jurors to show up for duty next month or risk a fine.

``It is our constitutional duty to serve. It is our highest honor,'' Judge Alice C. Hill said during a hearing at San Fernando Courthouse.

``Each of you knows the reason that you've been summoned. Each of you, according to our records, were summoned for jury service ... and failed to appear and contact us after that.''

But in a demonstration of just how difficult it is to enforce a court summons, only 10 of the 181 who were ordered to appear Thursday actually showed up.

Across the county, jury-duty scofflaws have been asked to go before a judge and explain their defiance of civic duty - and commit themselves to the jury box. Only those with valid medical or financial hardships may be excused.

The hearings are part of a three-year effort by the court to encourage voluntary participation in jury service.

Between January and June, the court called 23,318 jury-duty evaders to Order of Cause Hearings in Pomona, Pasadena, Santa Monica, downtown Los Angeles and San Fernando. About 4,400 others who live in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys will be ordered to appear during hearings this summer.

Those ignoring their civic appointments must pay up to $250 for a first offense, up to $750 for a second, and $1,500 for failing to appear for jury duty a third time.

Court officials said they don't want the money - they want jurors.

Of the 4 million to 5 million citizens called to jury duty last year, only 800,000 were qualified to serve, Hill said. On any given day, 10,000 jurors sit quietly in jury boxes throughout the region.

``A lot of people don't understand this is a mandatory civic obligation,'' said Gloria Gomez, director of jury services for the county. ``You must do your duty - it's not an option, unfortunately.''

Thursday's hearing was brief as, one by one, 10 potential jurors fidgeted before the judge.

Each one had an excuse:

--Beatris Delgado said she didn't get her summons because she'd moved - but managed to get the summons for her scofflaw hearing.

--Randal Estrada asked for a financial hardship waiver because he was the family's sole breadwinner. He also said his English was poor.

--Andranik Petrossian, 57, of Northridge said he and his wife work six days a week in their West Los Angeles appliance store and haven't taken a vacation since 1996. A week on a jury would prevent him from paying his bills, he told the judge.

``I know this may be difficult, but that doesn't count as financial hardship under the law,'' Hill countered. ``I apologize for what's involved here, but I'm going to order you to serve.''

All 10 who appeared before the judge Thursday were ordered to serve.

Crenshaw, 48, of Pacoima, who receives Social Security benefits for an unspecified disability, said he didn't mind finally being called in after 20 years of tossing away summons.

``I never thought I'd have to do anything like this,'' he said. ``I never figured anybody would want me for jury duty.

``It doesn't matter to me. If they want me to be on the jury, that's cool.''

DanaBartholomew, (818) 713-3730

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jun 4, 2004
Words:596
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