Changing the mindset that many people have about being on a jury was the focus of Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. when he addressed the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club Thursday.

Changing the mindset that many people have about being on a jury was the focus of Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. when he addressed the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club Thursday.

“Duty is something that people don’t like, just like my kids don’t like it when I tell them to clean their rooms,” Wyatt said. “Jury service is contributing to the community because a jury is the eyes, the ears, the conscience of the community.

“Juries decide what communities will accept and will not accept,” he said.

Wyatt serves as circuit judge for the 5th Division of the 11th Judicial District-West, which includes Jefferson and Lincoln counties. He was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2005 to represent the court’s Second Division, replacing former judge Fred D. Davis III.

Wyatt was elected to his present position in 2006, then re-elected to a full term in 2008.

Until a few years ago, people were selected for jury duty by their voter registration, something Wyatt said caused many people not to register to vote.

“The legislature in their infinite wisdom changed the way people can be selected,” Wyatt said, explaining that in addition to voter registrations, people with drivers’ licenses and Arkansas identification cards are subject to being selected.

“We receive a list every four months and if you meet the qualifications, you’re eligible to serve,” he said.

Those qualifications include being at least 18 years of age, being a citizen of the United States, a resident of Jefferson or Lincoln county, of sound mind and good moral character, able to read and write in English, and not been convicted of a felony.

In addition, persons who served on a jury panel within the past two years are excluded.

People called for jury duty but not selected are paid $25 each time they show up, while those who actually serve receive $50 per day.

Wyatt said new jury panels are selected every four months, and jurors will serve no more than 10 days during that four month period.

“You would be surprised how few trials we actually have,” Wyatt said. “In the last four months, I think I had about 5,000 cases assigned but we actually had only two trials. Most of the rest of them got worked out between the lawyers.”

Holding up a copy of the form that is mailed out to perspective jurors every four months, Wyatt said that about “two days after these go out, the phone starts to ring.”

He said calls range from people who don’t want to be on a jury because of an upcoming medical procedure, people who say their business can’t get along without them, and “people who think they’re too important to be on jury duty.”

Until about eight years ago, certain groups, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, school teachers, farmers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics were excluded from jury duty automatically, Wyatt said, explaining that those exclusions really limited the available jury pool, particularly in a small community like Lincoln County.

He also described a trend currently being seen around the country with jurors bringing Smart phones and the like into the courtroom and doing research on the case while sitting in the jury box.

Wyatt cited a recent incident in another county where a juror involved in a civil trial was sending text messages to other people about one of the parties in the case, telling them for example, “if you own stock in XYZ company, sell it.”

“That juror had already made up his mind about the case and I don’t recall exactly what happened but I think he spent a couple of days in jail for contempt of court,” Wyatt said.

The judge also said there has been a lot of “jury bashing,” especially by some national media outlets like Fox News, CNN, and others, who hire “so-called experts” to comment on trials.

“If they’re experts, they should be be practicing law instead of being on television,” Wyatt said.