It didn't take long for Travis County, Texas, to realize its new I-Jury system was a keeper.
Just an hour after announcing on cable TV that jurors could respond to summonses online, the deluge began. Soon 70 percent of potential jurors were responding to summons online. That figure has grown to 85 percent since program implementation in March 2002, saving the court more than $100,000 and increasing the number of trials the court can accommodate.
"We send out anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 summonses a month," said Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza, district clerk for Travis County. "Of those who respond -- either requesting a disqualification, an exemption, or an assignment -- 85 percent are responding online."
The public's immediate response was surprising and a little unusual, Rodriguez-Mendoza said. "We saved money almost immediately because when we started the program, we had 70 percent participation. Everybody was telling us that anytime you introduce an online system or Web site, the industry standard for utilization is from 15 percent to 20 percent."
About 25 percent of the summonses return because of bad addresses, and about 10 percent of people summonsed don't respond. Thirty-five percent are excused.
Responding to a summons previously meant making an appearance at the courthouse, where the county held impaneling sessions two Mondays per month. Because of parking problems at the courthouse, the county decided to move the sessions offsite, renting a city-owned building nearby with more parking. But the city soon decided to tear the building down, creating a quandary for the county.
"The staff drove around looking for another building, but we decided to try something else," Rodriguez-Mendoza said, adding that one staff member suggested using the Internet. "We wondered if people would go on the Internet to do this, so we surveyed four separate groups, asking 'If you had the opportunity to go online, would you use it?'"
About 85 percent in each group answered yes. The county eventually found another building for the semimonthly paneling meetings while working to deploy I-Jury. With assistance from the county Records Management Department and a $250 software patch, I-Jury was connected to the county's e-mail system.
The county began I-Jury with criminal cases then moved to civil justice. Initially it was hectic for the three-member jury management staff, Rodriguez-Mendoza said.
"It took a while to for it all to be coordinated," she said. "Then we had to go to the Texas Online Commission because we wanted to do a project online. It's settled down now that everyone knows how to do this."
Takes 10 Minutes
Jury management staff responds to 85 percent of the jury summonses via e-mail. Each e-mail from a potential juror must be reviewed to ensure the person is qualified. The staff then assigns a time schedule and returns the summons to the prospective juror.
"Every time we send out a summons, the staff is having to respond to e-mails," Rodriguez-Mendoza said. "It's intense. It's not as physical as it used to be -- carrying forms and summonses. It's a different kind of work."
It's a different story for potential jurors. It takes about 10 minutes to go online, complete the questionnaire and send it off. Prospective jurors get an e-mail response in three to five days, telling applicants their e-mails were received and to wait for a response.
Although I-Jury cut the number of calls routinely answered by staff, the court still receives numerous calls.
"People want to make sure we got their e-mail," Rodriguez-Mendoza said, "even though we do send them a reminder."
One gentleman sent his questionnaire electronically, then called 5 minutes later to make sure it was received. "Those are the kinds of calls we're getting," Rodriguez-Mendoza said. "And of course, people get anxious because they haven't received their assignment yet and want to know when they're