Jury duty could pose a significant challenge for some bloggers

I recently got a questionnaire about eligibility for jury duty.  In fact, because I will be moving to an adjacent county very soon, the event is probably moot point.

States vary in the frequency registered voters are summoned for potential jury duty.  But typically many states are coming to a “one day one trial” concept, which, for example, Texas has followed for years. Less frequent is the possibility of jury duty for a federal trial.

Juror conduct has long been a subject of controversy, as can be seen from this US Courts Manual. Jurors are not allowed to discuss a case of subject matter related to a case outside the courtroom, or “research” it, even in newspapers.  In the past twenty years, the likelihood of finding related material on the World Wide Web or through social media sites has obviously increased exponentially.  The AP has a major story in the Los Angeles Times in April 2016 on the problem.

In a cursory look at the problem, I didn’t find any evidence that most juror duty episodes wind up with jurors being required to cut off all Internet access.  But if you think about it, the likelihood of this sort of the thing in the future seems to increase. It is true that most actual cases are obscure and are likely to be unknown to a juror and not obviously conspicuous even on the Internet.

The greatest danger, of course, is sequestration, which is pretty rare, although it may happen more frequently in the future, given the controversy of many cases. Changes in venue could become more common, but one could argue that Internet coverage makes venue change less effective.

However, if a juror is denied all Internet access for a significant time, he or she can face significant losses, such as even of social media accounts or followers or even of hosted accounts if not able to respond to a problem, and if not having an employee or proxy person who can handle questions (I do not).

People can get out of duty if old enough (in some states, over 70), or if having sole custody of minors or disabled persons, or if the sole person with certain work responsibilities.  Blogging alone, even given the risk to it, would not qualify unless it paid its own way.

But a news blogger could possibly “ get out” of being selected in a voir dire by having blogged in the pst about the subject matter.  An interesting, if evasive, strategy.

This is an area where the fundamental right to a fair trial can live in tension with free speech.

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

More details on how refugee resettlement sponsorship by congregations works

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Late Saturday, during the “intermission” at a benefit concert, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA shared more information about how support of an arriving refugee family by a participating congregation works.

The State Department settled one or two immigrant families a week in the greater Washington DC area (not sure if this includes Baltimore). A family typically arrives between two weeks and ten weeks of the time that the congregation is notified of the selection of the family. Immediate notification, of impending arrival and need for pickup at an airport and settlement, may be only two or three days.

In northern Virginia, there are about 25 or so commercially managed apartment and townhome communities participating in renting housing.  Many are located fairly close to Interstate 95, although a few are in newer areas like around Merrifield;  Some are as far south as Prince William County (the Woodbridge or Potomac Mills areas).  Generally the communities are near bus or rail lines and near commercial areas that could offer especially retail jobs (the new developments in Merrifield are a good example of what is desirable).

Volunteers who spend significant time with the family will need to pass DHS background checks performed by the intermediary, Lutheran Social Services.

Participating congregations must provide a long list of household and furniture items.  The social service agency however handles public school placement.

Refugee families do receive assistance (including health care), but will need donations from the congregation to cover the high rents in the metro area, particularly until securing employment.  But generally refugee adults are expected to secure some employment in a short time, as they will have work permits and all documentation (not the case for asylum seekers, as has been discussed in this column).  Some refugees do arrive with considerable skills, especially in information technology.

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The countries from which refugees might come could include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, Myanmar, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran.  They do not include China, Russia or former republics (like Ukraine) right now, or North Korea, right now (but would sound plausible later).  It sounds plausible that they could include some Central American countries.  Largely, they are countries with uncontrolled conflicts, which may be religious, autocratic (Assad), or drug-cartel related.

The process involves many more people (perhaps 25-30) per refugee family than in Canada, where private sponsorship encourages the formation of guardian-sponsorship groups of just five.  Health care support would sound easier in Canada since it has single payor health coverage.

(Posted: Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)