Butler County jury management upgrades to online system

Clerk of Courts says, ‘It really has brought us into this century.’

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Some dread it, others find it fascinating, but either way a notice for jury duty always gets a reaction — if the recipient sees it, or if it doesn’t get tossed as junk mail.

The Butler County Clerk of Courts Office has streamed lined the jury management system, bringing the process that includes notification of potential jurors and seating prospective jurors in the courtroom for selection into the 21st century.

Until July, the office was using a mail, paper-based system from 1997. The new system allows those chosen through the automated system to log in online, fill out jury questionnaires online and even upload documents for why they should be excused, such as a doctor’s note or proof they are no longer a resident of the county.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

They are still notified by mail with a large postcard summons that is more colorful to attract attention. It includes their juror badge number, a web address and or QR code that directs them to a website to complete their required questionnaire and login process.

After filling out the form, the juror can include an email or request a text to remind them to check in online daily during the two-week service period to find out if they need to report in person. A phone number is included for those who prefer to call.

“It really has brought us into this century. Obviously it is more streamlined. We are sending out a postcard verses 3 or 3 pieces of paper with questionnaires and return envelopes,” said Mary Swain, county clerk of courts. “And court administration doesn’t get as many pieces of paper with excuses and paper questionnaires.”

The office summons about 1,000 potential jurors every two weeks. With the old system they got about a 60 percent reply. This is up to about 70 percent with the online system.

Swain said eventually, the office believes there will be a cost saving in just postage.

But what about the technologically challenged?

Swain said the post card provides the person with a phone number to call and employees help them navigate the system.

Some may have relatives, likely children or grandchildren, who can help.

“It is pretty rare so far. And people are not really upset, just challenged with the system,” Swain said.

Joe Statzer, clerk of courts chief deputy, was recently summoned, so he got to go through to process firsthand.

“I did it on a laptop, but I can tell you my children in their 20s and 30s would have done it on their phones,” Statzer said.

Both noted all ages are learning to adapt to technology, and they are here those who need it.

If someone is told to show up in person for jury selection, the postcard also allows for an easy check-in process with kiosks in the jury room that scans their QR code. All their info filled out online follows them for attorneys and the judge to see in the courtroom when the voir dire process happens.

Swain said if they forget the postcard, they can still be checked in, “but they are strongly encouraged to bring it with them.”

Since the new process has been in place, the county has had two jury trials. The turnout on day of voir dire was up 10 to 20 percent.

The staff says the electronic reminders help.

The old system will end at the end of 2023, and the first half of 2024 is packed with scheduled trials, including two that are capital cases. The new system will still be selecting the jurors, but in those cases paper questionnaires will also be mailed.

Death penalty cases call for more specialized juror forms that can vary from case to case.

Swain said the office began looking for a new system about two years ago and explored several. The cost of implementation was a little less than $100,000.

Butler County Judge Keith Spaeth, who will preside over the first capital case in 2024, said he embraces the new system.

Spaeth, a 1979 grad of Badin High School, said he recently heard from a high school friend who wondered about the old process.

“He was serving on jury duty. Said he got busy and forgot to call in that day. He said ‘I don’t understand why you guys don’t send out a reminder text or something like that,’ Spaeth said with a laugh. He noted no matter what the age, people have gotten used to electronic reminders about appointments.

This new system is able to do that, Spaeth said.

“It is wonderful step forward. I think it is going to make it better for our citizens. It will be much more efficient, use less manpower to maintain the system,” he said.

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