Perks ease pain of jury duty

By Jamie Boll - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - There is the Hollywood version of jury duty and the real life version.

"It's usually a sense of dread," said Charles Keller.

Keller's world is firmly set in reality.  He is the outreach administrator at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.  Part of his job is keeping potential jurors happy when they answer their summons to appear.

"We sort of adopted this philosophy that we'll try to make (jury duty) a more pleasant experience," said Keller.

Mecklenburg County is doing more than trying.  It is doing things no other county in North Carolina is doing to help ease the discomfort of what is a required civic duty.

"This space actually has 3 theater areas," said Keller as he walked through the jury assembly room.

The room is situated on one of the upper floors of the courthouse and comes complete with views of the city skyline.

The main waiting area has comfy seats and big flat screen televisions.  Movies play twice a day, offering a distraction, while potential jurors wait to see if their name is called.

If you don't like the feature presentation you can visit the business center to get work done, to browse the web, or check email.  There is also a game room, complete with pinball and pool tables, a lactation room for new moms and a private area to make cell-phone calls.

The perks were added when Mecklenburg County opened its new courthouse in 2007.  The ideas came from a survey of jurors which asked them what would could be added to improve their experience.

The comforts came with little taxpayer expense.  The games are provided by a private vendor. The movies are paid for through a non-profit.

The courthouse also provides a free daycare.  It's open to anyone with court business including jurors. Mecklenburg County is the primary source of funding for the center, but grants and donations help offset some of the cost.

The point of it all was to make it easier for people to show up.

"Before we installed all these amenities, our no-show rate was fairly high," said Keller.

In the old courthouse, the no-show rate was known to hit 15 percent.  The national average is 5 percent.  Mecklenburg County's rate is now down to just 4 percent.

"Jury service is probably the only contact most people have with the court system," said Keller. "So we want this space to be special and comfortable and convenient."

Pay for jury duty is still meager. Most will serve just one day and get paid just $12. But it is required and if you don't show up you may end up with a court date yourself which can result in a fine.