FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's a civic duty. Your civic duty. But a WINK News investigation uncovered there are hundreds of people in southwest Florida skipping out on jury duty and the rest of us are paying for it.
If you skip on jury duty there are consequences. Tickets, fines or even jail. But a WINK News investigation found out because of tight budgets, those consequences sometimes can't be enforced.
In Hendry County, Deputy Clerk Christina Jedrykowski knows first hand getting enough jurors for a trial is nearly impossible.
"We sent out 2,000 summons and I didn't have enough for the whole week and I think it was a four day week," said Jedrykowski.
Jedrykowski works hand in hand with the Honorable Judge James Sloan. Sloan is in his 21st year as a judge in Hendry County and said he's never seen it this bad.
"When jury trial week comes, we sit there with our fingers crossed and hoping we have enough folks respond to their jury summons so we can actually conduct jury trials," said Sloan.
People are ditching jury duty.
"Appearance of jurors was in excess of 50% and now, you do the math, 5% or below," said Sloan.
Hendry County used to send certified letters out to residents in order to track who got their summons and who didn't but the cost got too high.
"From a cost benefit analysis, it cheaper to send out 1,500 regular summons than it is 200 certified. The downside is we don't know who has gotten them and who hasn't," said Sloan.
"We're going to have to dip into limited resources and start sending out certified mail because that's the only way I can affirmative prove that has someone received their jury summons and chose to ignore it," said Sloan.
"When you say dip into limited resources, I mean we're talking taxpayer dollars that really aren't there," said Genevieve Judge, WINK News reporter.
"You're talking taxpayer dollars. You're going to figure out where you're going to cut, where you're going to take that money from to bring the jurors in," said Sloan.
Not every southwest Florida county has the same problem. Charlotte County Clerk Barbara T. Scott said jurors come when called.
"We have a 60% return on our summons issued which is extremely good," said Scott.
A similar story in Lee County.
"Here in Lee County, we have over 600,000, in the summertime quite a bit less, but we've always been able to get the number of jurors that we've needed," said Linda Doggett, Lee County Clerk of Court.
Collier County Judge Vince Murphy said even one of their most famous residents, Judith Sheindlin, shows up when summoned.
"She recognized the significance of the obligation to serve on a jury. She answered the call, she came in and sat in our very comfortable high school seats upstairs," said Murphy.
Judge Judy spoke to WINK News about why she believes in jury duty and why you should show up.
"A. You might just enjoy it. B. You might just learn something and C. If you don't, it's a crime," said Sheindlin.
In fact, with or without Judge Judy, Collier County has one of the lowest skip rates in the area with just under seven percent in 2011.
Charlotte County summoned 27,945 jurors in 2011. 2,662 people showed up. The county doesn't have a record of the jurors that were a no show. 18,850 were returned or excused.
Lee County sent out jury summons to 140,047 people in 2011. 20, 535 showed and 11,976 did not show.
In Collier County, 28,203 people were summoned for jury duty in 2011. 3,361 people showed up. 1,956 people were a no show. Others were excused.
Glades County summoned 5,175 people in 2011. 968 people showed up and 1,432 were a no show.
In Hendry County, 46,552 people were summoned for jury duty. Only 1,628 people showed and 22,226 were a no show meaning 47.74% of people in Hendry County skipped jury duty in 2011.
The Clerk of Court in Hendry County, Barbara Butler, said she believes money is the reason many chose not to serve.
"Being a juror is $15 a day, where they can make $80 a day working so they've got a family to feed, children to support, children to send to school to its hard on them to come to jury duty," said Butler.
In many counties, if you show, your name is put to the bottom of the list and you're usually good to go for the next year. If you don't, your name is put right back in to be summoned again.
"Devote one day out of one year and do you civil duty for the county," said Butler.
For Judge Sloan, he just hopes finding a fix, for a problem no one seems to be able to solve, happens sooner than later.
"Jury service to a lot of people has become a joke but there is no one laughing. I'm hoping we can find a solution," said Sloan.
So far in 2012, the numbers for our southwest Florida counties are about the same. With Glades and Hendry counties having the most difficult time.
In Hendry County, its not in the budget to start sending certified letters but it's something that could happen in the future.