KELSO, Wash. - After 16 years on the bench, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning says he has never seen so many empty seats in his jury box.
"It's worse than it has been," he said.
Court officials said they send out 550 jury summons every two weeks. They say about 360 of those are useless because people have moved, have criminal records or have been excused in some way. That means about two out of three potential jurors are not filling those seats.
Warning says that leaves a small pool of available jurors.
"For reasons that are not real clear, the percentage of people who have just not shown up after sending the form in has gone up quite a bit," he said.
It's not unusual for people who get their jury summons in the mail to throw it away, but what is unusual is when potential jurors fill out and submit the paperwork only to never show up.
Small jury pools not only waste taxpayer money, they also waste time - causing delays and backlogs, Warning said. It costs about $400 per hour to run a courtroom, he said.
Sydney Potts was accused of dealing methamphetamine out of his family's car lot last year. His trial was delayed, along with two others in Cowlitz County, because there were not enough jurors to hear the case.
"It's very frustrating," said Warning.
Not showing up for jury duty is a misdemeanor. Those who skip out could face jail time, but Warning says he does not have the resources to enforce "no-shows."
"You have to throw a lot of money at it to solve it."
To help get around the problem, Warning said the court summons a lot more people to jury duty, which may explain why some people in Cowlitz County may have been summoned more than once.
All he can do is ask for the public's help to fill those empty jury seats.
"If you get a summons for jury duty, please show up."