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Of People, Places and Things: The Fillmore County 10


Fri, Jan 31st, 2003
Posted in Columnists

Many of you have probably heard of the big to do on the streets of Preston on Tuesday. It was reported in Wednesday’s Pioneer Press under the headline: Sheriff hits the street for jurors.The story was eventually picked up by the Associated Press and sent out all over the state. One person I know heard it on the radio; another person saw it on a website; the Rochester Post Bulletin ran it in their Wednesday edition; and KTTC gave it 30 seconds as well. During the noon hour on Tuesday, while snow was falling ever so gently giving Fillmore County its first bonafide snow of the season, a posse from the Sheriff’s Department was making the rounds of businesses near the courthouse square rounding up folks to be emergency members of a jury in a criminal trial.Ann Ott of Preston was picked up at the Sweet Stop & Sandwich Shoppe. She went to the courthouse carrying her sack lunch and a drink.Tim Kiehne, the assistant manager of the IGA, was called into service, as was one of his customers. Four patrons eating lunch at the Victory Cafe were ordered by Sheriff Jim Connolly to appear at the courthouse as soon as they had finished eating. County Commissioner Marc Prestby had just finished the county board meeting and was talking to Wayne Bicknese in the hallway of the courthouse when both men were handed sheets of paper and asked to go to the courtroom. Wayne is married to County Commissioner Helen Bicknese and had come to town to meet his wife for lunch. I was summoned by Mike Ask of the Sheriff’s Department who had come to my office. I have known Mike for years and have learned never to believe the first four things he tells me. You see, Mike absolutely loves a good joke and is forever trying to pull my and anyone else’s leg. “I’m here to call you to jury duty,” Mike said in an official tone to me as he stomped snow off his shoes. “Sure you are,” I said, already starting to laugh. “You’d better take Dick instead.” I joked, pointing at Dick Kelly, of Kelly Printing & Signs, who was in the office. Dick knew Mike and didn’t trust him either. “No, really,” Mike said. “Hear, read this.”He handed me a sheet of paper. It is orderd that the Fillmore County Sheriff bring to the Fillmore County Courthouse forthwith for jury service ten qualified citizens of Fillmore County. It was signed by Judge Robert Benson.Qualified meant that you were at least 18 years of age and lived in Fillmore County.“We need you for jury duty,” Mike repeated. “This is for real,” I said, sobering up quickly. I followed Mike to the Courthouse where I met the rest of the Fillmore County 10. They had similar first reactions to being summoned - “You’ve got to be kidding.” Fillmore County Court Administrator Jim Attwood told me later that a seldom used provision of the law allows the judge to order the Sheriff to find jurors in an emergency. One story I heard circulating around the courthouse was that Benson’s order was the second time this law had been used in Fillmore County in the last 30 years.Attwood said that for a felony trial, the court usually summons 30 to 32 jurors. “In this case 34 jurors were summoned and 34 jurors appeared for jury duty,” Attwood said. But according to Attwood, a number of jurors were dismissed for a variety of reasons. One prospective juror had tickets for Mexico; several jurors had hired Attorney Lawrence Maus in the recent past (Maus was the defense attorney in the case being heard). Other jurors were dismissed for “cause” where the court believed it would be difficult for the person to be an impartial juror. Of the 34 prospective jurors, the court found itself with a pool of 21, needing to have 14 jurors picked for the trial (12 plus 2 alernates). But the defense attorney has the option of dismissing five jurors and the state prosecutor another three, which might have left only 13 jurors for final selection. This prompted the judge’s order and the need for the Sheriff posse. In the end, it took a pool of 44 citizens to make up the 14 person jury. Of the Fillmore County 10, two were chosen to be on the jury that would hear the case. The rest of us who were not selected will remain in the jury pool for the next two months. I have sat in the Fillmore County Courtroom on many occasions as a reporter keeping notes and listening to testimony in a variety of cases. I have great respect for the professionals that work for the Fillmore County District Court as well as for the law enforcement officials who enforce our laws. On many occasions I have watched the jury as they hear a case and have often thought of the difficult, but essential role that those individuals play in our judicial system.They are at the core of impartiality and represent the very notion that one is innocent until proven guilty. It is their role to ensure that the burden of proof is on the state. For part of an afternoon on Tuesday, I was proud to be one of them.

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