The county of Lubbock, Texas, is one of a handful in the state that allows its citizens to skip one of the most painful life events there is.
When called for jury duty, Lubbock residents now have the option to report online -- they log onto the Lubbock County Online Jury Access System, follow the steps and answer some questions. At that point, the prospective juror waits to be notified via voice call, text message or email if he or she has been selected. Whether they are eventually called in to serve on a jury or not, those who report online save themselves hours of waiting in a government building.
According to the county, the online system has increased participation -- more citizens are reporting for jury duty than before, and citizens tell the county that they much prefer reporting online. Built by contractor KiCorp, the system – online since November – requires extra manpower to maintain, and took two years of planning before it was operational. It’s all been worth it, though, said Lubbock County District Clerk Barbara Sucsy.
For mail-based jury summonses, the county had about a 25 percent reporting rate before the online system was launched, Sucsy said. This number, however, is misleading, because as Sucsy noted, of the 75 percent who did not show up, many were exempt or excused for manifold reasons. Due to an accounting error, the city doesn’t have an exact number showing how the online system has improved show-rates, she said, but the general sense is that more people are responding.
“I know that people are very happy with it,” Sucsy added. “We have fewer and fewer people reporting in person. We get a lot of positive feedback, people will call and say, ‘This is great.’ They don’t have to sit in a hot, stuffy, central jury room with very uncomfortable chairs for three or four hours, waiting to be selected.”
There are more than 10 other counties in the state with similar systems, including Travis County, which has had an online reporting system in place for more than 10 years. Travis served as the model for its own system, Sucsy said.
The system’s development incurred costs and presented challenges. Three clerks spend 30 to 40 hours each week either emailing, texting or returning phone calls, Sucsy said, adding that the central jury office also pulls 20 to 25 man-hours per week from the main office doing the same tasks. This is necessary, she added, because the county doesn’t have an interactive voice response (IVR) system to automate some of those tasks.
Planning for the system’s launch and getting everyone in the court system was also a challenge. “We are very detail-oriented and we spent hours and hours reviewing,” she said. “They would build a program, we would look at it, make suggestions. … We also visited with the county Bar Association, and they sent representatives to make sure the attorneys were sure our methods were legal. It took a lot of legwork to get it ready.”
One financial advantage to the online system is that people who report online waive the $6 payment they would have received if they had reported in person. “If we have 300 people that report online," Sucsy said, "we are saving $1,800 that week."
The system, she added, is a work in progress -- the county is considering adding an IVR system that would reduce the weekly workload, among other changes to improve citizens' interactions with their local government.