A new electronic jury system approved for purchase Monday should save residents time at the Victoria County courthouse.
And it should also save taxpayers about $100,000 in a few years, said District Clerk Cathy Stuart.
“It’s a done deal, and it’s a great deal,” she said after Monday’s county commissioners meeting.
“I really applaud Cathy Stuart for coming to us with that proposal. I think that is going to be a big step forward,” said County Judge Ben Zeller.
Previously, district clerk officials mailed summonses to about 550 prospective jurors for about 22 panels each year. Prospective jurors then reported to the courthouse, where they either accepted the duty or explained to a judge why they should be excused.
As a result, traffic jams sometimes occurred at the courthouse’s security checkpoint during jury qualification.
Zeller said he hopes the new system will help alleviate those crowds.
Stuart said an average of about a fifth of those summoned actually respond, and it’s up to judges to hold the no-shows in contempt.
When court was canceled or delayed, prospective jurors often found out as they reported to the courthouse, much to their annoyance, Stuart said.
The new Courthouse Technologies system will also rely on summonses mailed to prospective jurors, but instead of waiting to show up for duty to learn about delays or disqualifications, jurors will be able to find out that information via text message, automated phone message or email.
For example, a trial was delayed Monday morning after District Judge Bobby Bell reported he was ill.
“In the summons, it will give them directions to a website, and it will also assign a PIN number to each juror, and that’s what they will log in with,” she said. “And that PIN number will be able to tell them where they are going, what time or if it’s canceled.”
Technology-wary residents will also have the option to simply call the courthouse and talk with an assistant clerk rather than use digital communications. Or, Stuart said, they can show up on time for jury duty.
The first summonses under the new jury management system will be mailed in December.
Digital security and jurors’ information will be managed by Courthouse Technologies.
County commissioners have allocated about $30,000 to the district clerk’s office to pay for the Courthouse Technologies’ system, which charges $2.96 per summons.
Although Stuart said she was unsure how much the county had paid for the previous jury management system, she estimated the county would save money by decreasing payments to prospective jurors.
Jurors are paid about $6 each day for their first day of appearance and $40 for all other days after.
Stuart said this year marks the third year she has requested the electronic jury management system from commissioners.
Zeller said commissioners did not approve the program last year because of budget constraints and costs associated with the establishing the electronic jury system.
During that time, Stuart researched the program by calling counties where it has been implemented or is in the process of being implemented.
Those counties include Nueces, Coryell and Hidalgo counties.
County officials there, Stuart said, have given glowing reports about the program.
Nueces County Jury Coordinator Bertha Elizondo said her county has used Courthouse Technologies for years and so far everything has been great.
She estimated a savings of about $350,000 in the first year of full implementation with additional, comparable savings in following years.
The notification system has also cut down on crowds in the parking lot and security checkpoint.
“It’s been awesome,” she said, adding, “We’ve been very happy with them.”