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A few months ago my husband was called to jury duty. When he arrived at the jury assembly plaza he was placed in a group of 80 other prospective jurors, sent to the criminal courthouse, and handed a lengthy jury questionnaire for a capital murder case. He was then instructed to fill it out, go home, and return to the courthouse a week later after the attorneys had time to process the questionnaires. He was dismissed during his second visit to the courthouse.

The Houston Chronicle recently discussed the decline of the jury trial and lamented the fact that judges and attorneys do not seem to respect jurors’ time. Given how far we have advanced technologically, it’s surprising that the legal field doesn’t use technological advances to improve efficiency in jury duty.

Doctors text appointment reminders to their patients and electronically send prescriptions to pharmacies. MD Anderson and Texas Children’s allow patients to create online portals to check the status of test results and appointments and to view medical records online. And although the Texas Supreme Court has passed rules requiring electronic filing and notices and Harris County judges are moving towards using electronic signatures, the technological advances do not extend to jury selection.

Currently potential jurors report to the jury assembly building to see if they will be needed for a trial on that date. Jurors fill out paper questionnaires with basic information, and the attorneys do not receive these until moments before the jury panel arrives in the courtroom. In a few complex or large cases potential jurors fill out questionnaires when they are called to the courtroom.

Yet, when used correctly, jury questionnaires can streamline the jury process and make more efficient use of jurors’ time. Judge Mike Engelhart of the 151st Judicial District Court believes that properly used jury questionnaires can shorten voir dire and make the attorneys’ more focused in their questioning. And recent juror Lindsay Munoz observed that the “attorneys knew early on that they could pare down the jurors to a handful.”

Harris County should allow jurors to call, check online, or receive a text message to see if they will be needed the following day and create standard questionnaires for jurors to fill out. Judge Randy Wilson of the 157th Judicial District Court has analyzed the number and types of suits filed in Harris County. In 2010, approximately 18% of cases filed in Harris County were personal injury lawsuits and 30% were business litigation cases. With this information, the local bar and judiciary can create basic questionnaires for the most common types of cases that can be distributed and processed before jurors even get to the courthouse.

Harris County already allows jurors to reschedule jury duty online, and federal courts have a limited jury questionnaire that jurors fill out before reporting to jury duty. But federal courts go further and have potential jurors call or check a website to see if they are needed the following day. El Paso uses iJuror to allow jurors to check on the status of their jury summons and to complete a jury questionnaire. Harris County should follow suit and modernize jury duty.