About 38,000 Maine citizens were summoned for jury duty last year. Not among them were people exempted from serving due to their jobs: doctors, dentists, veterinarians, sheriffs, judges and lawyers.
On Nov. 1, the exemptions for all professions except the governor and active duty members of the military will end.
The change actually resulted from a bill aimed at expanding the list of exempted professions, to include nurse practitioners. But in an about-face, an amendment to the legislation ended jury duty exemptions for a broad swath of professionals.
The amendment was proposed on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which oversees the administration of the court system, and unanimously endorsed by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. The Maine Constitution and Maine law require that juries represent the broadest cross section of the population, Mary Ann Lynch, the liaison from the judiciary branch to the Legislature, said in March.
“Courts interpreting the constitutional mandate for a jury of one’s peers have said that an impartial jury should represent a fair cross section of the population,” she said in written testimony.
Gov. Paul LePage signed the bill into law in June.
The original law exempting certain professions from jury duty first was passed in 1971. In addition to those being eliminated Nov. 1, the original list also included court clerks and assistant clerks, the secretary of state and state treasurer, municipal council members, probate judges and counselors, according to information provided by the Legislative Law Library. The current list has been in place since 1985.
The Maine Medical Association opposed the elimination of the physician exemption but said in its weekly newsletter that fewer than five states currently have physician exemptions.
“Deferments are certainly expected to accommodate patient needs but eventually the court will expect the physician to be available,” the newsletter states.
The Maine State Bar Association opposed adding nurse practitioners to the exemption list but took no stand on the amendment, James Cohen, legislative counsel for the MSBA, said Wednesday.
A state group representing criminal defense attorneys did not take a stand on the amendment but on Wednesday a representative welcomed the change.
“Jury duty is the highest form of community service, and the criminal defense bar welcomes the opportunity to participate,” said Jamesa Drake, president elect of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The names of people called for jury duty are drawn from a list of licensed drivers and people with state identification cards or who have asked that their name be added to potential jury pools, according to information on the court system’s website. To be eligible for jury duty, a person must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years of age, a resident of the county where the courthouse is located, and able to read, speak and understand the English language, unless the inability is a result of a physical disability.
“The court has the authority to excuse individuals from jury service upon a showing of undue hardship, extreme inconvenience, public necessity or inability to render satisfactory jury service because of physical or mental disability,” the website says. “A person 80 years or older who does not wish to serve on a jury may be excused from jury service.”
Lynch said in March that of the 38,000 residents summoned for jury duty last year, between 5 and 10 percent ultimately ended up serving.
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