Free Wi-Fi Could Boost Jury Duty Attendance, Cuts Costs in Houston's Harris County

Wireless network will enable telecommuting, which could mean more people will show up for jury duty, official says.

by / July 9, 2009

Reporting for jury duty is a civic privilege -- and most would agree it also can be an annoying inconvenience, especially for citizens who have to give up a day's pay to leave work. Some people simply ignore their jury summons.

Harris County, which encompasses the city of Houston, is hoping that a new free-to-use Wi-Fi network installed for the county's 700-seat jury assembly room will increase the number of people who show up when summoned. The county also could save some money at the same time.

The county's rate of jury turnout is only 20 percent. Of the 15,000 citizens who are summoned for jury duty each week, only 3,000 show up. That low turnout limits the pool for jury selection. It also forces the county to pay for mailings of reminder notices and new summonses, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If the county could improve jury turnout by just 5 percent, it would save the government $100,000 in mailings, said Loren Jackson, the Harris County district clerk.

County officials say the free, filtered Wi-Fi network built and maintained by AT&T will enable telecommuting for those citizens waiting in the jury assembly room in downtown Houston.

"If [the network] helps one person to continue to earn their regular wage, then it's worth doing," said Jackson.

Other municipalities' courthouses are beginning to offer free wireless Internet access, Jackson said, though Harris County's situation was a bit more urgent because the building is older. Those who are waiting inside the county's jury waiting room aren't able to pick up a cell phone signal, he said.

Matt Williams Associate Editor
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