(Sample text — specific messages will vary by court | Photo courtesy of the Deschutes County Circuit Court)
The Deschutes County Circuit Court is among the first in Oregon to implement an improved system for jurors to respond to a summons and communicate with the court. In addition to an enhanced online response form and email communication, jurors can now opt in to receive status updates and service reminders via text message. If they opt in for email or text messaging, jurors will get an alert advising them to call the juror information line for information about when and where to report for service the following day.
“The system can send automated emails including service reminders, status updates, updates to juror information, deferral requests and exemption or disqualification notifications,” said Jeff Hall, the trial court administrator for the Deschutes County Circuit Court. “It also adds the new text message option for status updates and service reminders. That should be a big convenience for many people, and it should reduce the number of people who fail to report, simply because they forgot.”
Hall said the new system will also streamline internal court processes — promoting increased efficiency and provide the courts with better data. Key to the court’s efficiencies is use of the new online juror response option by jurors when they receive their initial summons. He said that data could inform further efficiencies, support efforts to better understand jury composition and response and promote diversity, equity and inclusion
According to preliminary information from the Oregon Judicial Department, about 60 percent of potential jurors are opting in for text messages when given the new option.
Hall noted that, while the new system is a big improvement, some members of the public may have a more basic question about jury duty. “Some people ask why we are holding jury trials at all during COVID-19,” said Hall. “It’s a good question. People charged with a crime have a right to a speedy trial. Participants in many civil cases also have a right to a trial by jury. That doesn’t go away because of COVID-19. To preserve these rights and maintain access to justice, courts have adapted their processes, facilities and technology to accommodate social distancing and other precautions. In addition to making extensive use of technology for remote hearings whenever possible, here in Deschutes County we remodeled a courtroom to increase distances between jurors who report for duty and between trial participants in a courtroom. And more recently, we created a courtroom at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds, allowing for even greater social distancing in jury trials. We are also now using that location to conduct juror orientation at the start of each jury term. Courts are an essential service, and both individuals and businesses depend on us to address criminal cases and resolve civil disputes.”
The Oregon Judicial Department piloted the updated online juror response system with the Marion County Circuit Court between September and mid-November. The Deschutes County Circuit Court is in the first group to follow that pilot. That group also includes circuit courts in Morrow and Umatilla counties. The circuit courts in Crook, Jefferson, Klamath and Malheur counties are scheduled to launch the new system in late January. Grant, Harney and Lake counties are currently scheduled to launch in mid-February. Though use of the new system is optional, so far about 26 of Oregon’s 36 state circuit courts are expected to make the transition by the beginning of April.
The Oregon Judicial Department (OJD) includes the Oregon Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Tax Court, circuit courts in every Oregon county and the Office of the State Court Administrator. The Department is committed to protecting rights and democracy by maintaining a strong, fair and impartial court system. For more information, visit courts.oregon.gov.