Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen talks Friday about the problem of getting people to show up for jury duty. In his chambers at Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan, Mullen holds a thick file of paperwork about juror candidates who were dismissed as ineligible to serve in an upcoming trial. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

SKOWHEGAN — The men and women who approached Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen’s bench Tuesday cited all sorts of reasons for why they had not shown up for jury duty.

They were sick, had no transportation, were required to be at their jobs — or never received a letter informing them they were chosen.

Mullen had called the dozen or so residents to Somerset County Superior Court on Tuesday morning, not to threaten or berate them, he said, but to find out why they did not show or let the court know why.

He was cordial, thanked them for coming and said he appreciated their input.

He also did not reveal their names and instead called them by number, explaining beforehand how critical it is for people to serve as jurors, that it is an obligation and that they need to be part of the system to make a difference. Justice, he said, depends on the quality of the jurors who serve.

“If jury duty was not mandatory, I’m very concerned if we have enough jurors at all,” he said.

Some of those who showed up Tuesday had not responded to more than one request to appear for jury duty.

Urban Clukey of Cambridge was one of the prospective jurors who failed to show up recently. At the Somerset County Courthouse in Skowhegan on Tuesday, Clukey told Justice Robert Mullen that he is undergoing treatment for cancer, and his summons to serve went to the wrong address. Staff photo by David Leaming

When Mullen called “number 28” to the lectern, an older man whose head was wrapped in gauze bandages approached. Mullen asked why he had not come to court the first time he was called for jury duty. The man later identified himself to the Morning Sentinel as Urban Clukey of Cambridge.

“I had no way to get to the court,” Clukey told Mullen. “This month, I have health issues. I have cancer.”

Mullen said he was sorry to hear that and inquired about a doctor’s letter.

“If I had gotten that information, I wouldn’t have sent you a letter and we wouldn’t be talking here today,” Mullen said.

Clukey said he had been waiting for a letter from the court telling him he had been excused from jury duty. Mullen asked him to check with the court clerk to make sure she had Clukey’s address, told him he would get a letter in November when jurors are requested again and if Clukey still did not feel well, the court would work with him.

“Let us know, and we’ll excuse you,” he said.

Mullen, the state’s deputy chief justice, said recently that the prevalence of no-show jurors threatens the court’s ability to hold trials and get verdicts. Those who do not show up potentially face fines or jail time if they ignore follow-up calls to report to the courthouse.

The law includes a stipulation that if people who do not show up for jury duty are found in contempt, they could face a fine of up to $100 and up to three days imprisonment, or both.

The problem of no-shows is not specific to Somerset County, according to Elaine Clark, communications director for the Maine Judicial Branch of state government, who said last week that other regions struggle with it. The courts, she said, are flexible with potential jurors and schedules, but they must not ignore notices and must get in touch with the court if they have problems.

Taylor Hall, 20, of Pittsfield, said she does not have a vehicle or a way to get to the court. Mullen said he empathizes with her transportation problems, but the flip side is if everyone said they couldn’t get to court, there would be no jurors.

He asked if her situation would be better in November and said all judges are willing to work with potential jurors. He added that the chances are good she would not get chosen if the pool of jurors is adequate.

Taylor Hall of Pittsfield was one of a group of jurors who failed to show up recently to serve on a jury at the Somerset County Courthouse. She told Justice Robert Mullen she did not have transportation and Tuesday was driven by a friend. Staff photo by David Leaming

“I’d like to work with you if I could, but I’d also like a representative jury pool,” he said.

Jurors get paid $15 a day and 44 cents a mile for travel, a cost Taylor said afterward, outside the courthouse, presents a problem for her, as she doesn’t own a vehicle and must pay someone to drive her to court if she is placed on a jury.

“I know it’s $15 a day but a full day of work and $15 a day — it’s difficult, it’s hard,” she said.

Hall said she understood what Mullen was saying about the importance and need for people to serve on a jury. She had sent the court a letter saying she couldn’t make it for jury selection but did not get a response, so she did not show up and then received a letter requiring her to appear Tuesday.

“I was very nervous,” she said. “I was like, this was not my fault. It’d be different if I owned a vehicle.”

Hall said she wouldn’t mind serving on a jury and felt better after talking with Mullen.

“He’s really nice. He seemed very understanding.”

A middle-aged woman said she had dental problems when she was called in 2015, but did not receive the latest request for jury duty and knew about Tuesday’s session only when she got a letter from the court telling her to show up.

“I am at a loss as to why that is,” Mullen said of why she would not have received a letter for jury duty.

The woman said she would have appeared, had she received it.

“I would have been there,” she said.

Mullen asked about whether attending the upcoming November jury selection would be a problem for her.

“I work for the school district and I am the only cook,” she said. “It all depends if I get a sub or not.”

She said summer is not a problem, as school is not in session. As with the others, Mullen asked her to make sure the court has her correct address and they would “see how it goes in November.”

A middle-aged man said he owns two businesses and doesn’t have the luxury of having much time off.

“I will do whatever is possible to try to limit your exposure, but again, if I excuse everyone who is a sole practitioner or owns a business, we wouldn’t have anybody,” Mullen said.

Earlier, he cited eight reasons the National Judicial College lists for why jury trials are important, including that the American jury trial is a constitutional right and a vital part of the American system of checks and balances, the founding fathers included trials in the U.S. Constitution because they prevent tyranny, trial by jury is a unique part of America’s democracy and they provide an opportunity for people to take part in governing.

Also, jury trials educate jurors about the justice system, provide a method for peaceful dispute resolution and offer the voice of the people to the civil and criminal justice systems, Mullen said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17