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Courts and Crime

Bill Seeks to Increase Jury Pools Across Maine's Court System

Doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, even judges will join the rest of Maine residents eligible for jury duty, under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The measure started out as an attempt to add nurse practitioners to the list of professions automatically exempted from jury duty. But the legislature’s Judiciary Committee turned the idea on its head and instead proposed to eliminate most of the existing jury-duty exemptions that have been in place for a half-century.

“Time for an update; the world has changed,” says Senator Dawn Hill, a Cape Neddick Democrat.

She says the state’s courts are finding it increasingly difficult to fill a jury box with a cross-section of Mainers. She says that’s because lawyers often challenge and disqualify potential jurors, or people don’t show up for jury duty, or judges excuse them for hardship or other reasons. The new measure will add numbers — and perspectives — to the pool, she says.

“We took the exemptions away from judges themselves,” says Hill. “Haven’t heard from one complaining; From lawyers — haven’t heard from one complaining; From sheriffs — haven’t heard from one complaining; Doctors — actually I haven’t heard from one complaining but apparently other people have.”

The Maine Bar Association supports the measure, as does the state’s judiciary. But the Maine Medical Association does not. Gordon Smith is the group’s executive director. He says the move will hurt patients — particularly given the shortage of medical professionals in Maine’s rural areas.

“Particularly in some specialties,” Smith says. “So if you’ve waited for nine or ten months to get your appointment with a neurologist in rural Maine for instance, I don’t think people are going to be very happy to get a cal on Friday and say, Well I’m sorry Mrs. Jones, Dr. Smith has been called in to jury duty.”

The bill’s supporters argue Maine’s judges are used to contending with the needs of various professions — giving lobstermen, farmers, inkeepers and teachers jury-duty deferments until the off-season, for instance — and would work with doctors’ schedules as well. The Senate gave strong approval to the measure on Monday and if the House and Governor follow suit, some 7,000 people will be added to the existing pool of potential jurors in Maine, that is, citizens over 18 who can read, speak and understand English, unless the the inability is caused by a disability. Active military personnel and deployed members of the National Guard would remain exempt, as would the governor.

This story was originally published on June 15, 2017 at 6:07 p.m. ET.