Judge Ralph Strother taught two young men old-fashioned civics lessons this week, but the lessons came with a price.
One man was fined $100, and both left the McLennan County Courthouse with stern dressing downs and promises of awaiting jail cells should their behavior persist.
Strother is judge of Waco’s 19th State District Court, one of two courts in the county that handles the most serious criminal cases. Unlike many of the people Strother issues orders for sheriff’s deputies to bring before him, the men are not dangerous felons.
In a way, they are repeat offenders, earning the judge’s attention by missing jury duty not once but twice in the last three weeks.
Both men, 21-year-old Cooper Nall, of Woodway, and 20-year-old Robert Flores-Martinez, of Waco, were summoned for jury duty on June 24. Both came that day and were among 60 others who were assigned to return to Strother’s court the next day for jury selection.
They were the only two not to show up, and McLennan County District Clerk Jon Gimble asked a deputy clerk to try to reach them. The clerk was able to contact both and rescheduled them again for jury duty on July 8, but neither showed up.
Nall, who was brought before the judge Friday, explained that he was ill the previous night and did not wake up in time for jury duty on June 25. Nall, contrite and apologetic, said he he was confused on his dates this week, thinking he was supposed to come to court next week although a reminder of the date was hanging on his refrigerator.
Strother assured Nall he is coming to court next week or would find accommodations at the county jail.
Flores-Martinez went before Strother on Thursday. His demeanor, which the judge described as “indifferent,” with an “I-don’t-care attitude,” earned him a $100 fine for contempt of court. The judge reset his jury service for Monday and threatened to jail him if he failed again to appear for jury duty.
Flores-Martinez claimed he was told to report to a facility on 18th Street. The county has no facility on 18th Street associated with jury service or any other service, Strother said, adding he stressed to him the importance of citizens willing to report for jury service to the operation of the justice system.
“We have some difficulty in these modern times, especially with young people — millennials and younger, I’m not even sure what you call them — they seem to not have any appreciation for responsibilities and duties,” Strother said. “We didn’t get privileges and freedom in this country without there being corresponding duty and responsibility, and I find that sense of duty and responsibility sadly lacking in modern times.”
Gimble said his office sends about 700 jury summons a week on an average of 45 weeks per year. Of those 700, about 100 to 150 are returned because of bad addresses that come from the Department of Public Safety list of licensed drivers or the county’s voter registration rolls.
From the 550 to 600 remaining each week, about 50 reschedule jury service for another date, Gimble said. Of those 500 to 550 left, an average of about 300 people report for jury service each week, he said.
Contempt of court for failing to report to jury service can bring a fine from $100 to $1,000 and up to three days in jail, according to the Texas Government Code.