Guest commentary: Jury service an opportunity, not just a civic obligation


Each week in Yamhill County, juries make decisions that change lives. They provide justice for victims and families, ensure that businesses honor their obligations, award damages to people injured through the negligence of others, and determine whether an individual will be imprisoned or set free.

One of the fundamental pillars of our democracy — the right to a trial by a jury of our peers — depends on those who answer the call to service.

I know it can be tempting to see a jury summons as an inconvenience, particularly in the wake of a pandemic. But jury service is one of the most important civic duties you can undertake.

When you report for jury duty, you are helping our courts ensure that everyone in our community receives the rights they are guaranteed by the Constitution.

The first week of May is Juror Appreciation Week, making it a good time for your local judges and court staff to extend their gratitude to those who have responded for jury duty. In Yamhill County, that encompasses nearly 2,500 people each year.

Numerous citizens served even during the early stages of the pandemic, when our courts remained open and jury trials continued, albeit with COVID precautions in place to keep everyone safe.

Beyond serving out of obligation, many who answer their jury summons also see the opportunity as an interesting learning experience. Jury service provides a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the inside of our courthouse and get a better sense of how court proceedings work.

It’s not a long commitment for most people.

In Yamhill County, jury service lasts one month. During that month, you call in every Sunday through Wednesday to see if you need to report in person. If you do need to appear, and you get selected for a jury, trials typically last only one to two days.

The vast majority of those who report for service do not actually end up serving on a jury.

However, just their presence in the jury assembly room helps move cases to resolution. The prospect of a trial becomes very real when parties know jurors are ready and waiting.

Oregon law protects workers by barring employers from firing, threatening to fire, intimidating, or coercing employees over jury service. We would like to thank the many private companies, government agencies, small businesses, school districts and all other employers that encourage and support employees called to jury service.

Your local courts — and fellow members of your local community — depend on your service. Thank you for doing your duty.

Former Deputy District Attorney Ladd Wiles serves as presiding judge on the Yamhill County Circuit Court bench.