Centre County jury selection process changes with times

For more than 100 years, jury selections in Centre County have been done exactly the same way.

The names of people in the jury pool were written on cards. The cards were put in a drawer, and they were randomly pulled out to see which people might hear the evidence in which case.

All that changed Monday.

A new system from RBA Professional Data Systems, of State College, is bringing the process out of the 19th century and into the 21st.

The new system streamlined the check-in process, said Jury Commissioner Hope Miller. Prospective jurors bring their summons letter, a more condensed mailing than previously used, which cost the county less to send out. The court scans a barcode on the letter and it is immediately entered into the list, ready to go.

Miller said it saved about an hour for the court and the residents doing their civic duty.

Larry Hilands, of RBA, said the system was designed for Centre, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties, with each paying $15,000. The software addresses the counties’ specific needs, with design input from court administrators, including Centre County’s Maxine Ishler.

“That’s extremely important. You need someone who knows what they’re doing,” Hilands said.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t hiccups, said Miller, but she credited those to human error as staff adjusts to the new system. One of the first cases drew a jury that seemed less random than it did alphabetical, but the subsequent case pulled from more than just A through D.

Hilands said the change is not just about speed and convenience, but integrating the technology with state-required reporting standards. RBA had a previous jury management system, but this new design is more updated to meet the needs of not only the state, but the counties in question.

“We have to do statistics on the number of people summoned, the number excused, etc.,” said Ishler. They also report other things, like jurors who serve more than four days to receive partial reimbursement.

Centre County is the first of the three to test drive the system.

“It went extremely well,” Ishler said. “We’ve very happy.”