QUESTION: I read in the Longview News-Journal this morning that Gregg County was resuming jury duty this month. After reading the article, I would like to know if a potential jurist can decline to sit on a jury if that person does not want to be around other people during this pandemic?
ANSWER: I don’t see anything in the state law that lists reasons for exemption from jury duty that would outright cover this concern. State law allows people to be exempted from jury duty for a variety of reasons, including if: they are older than 70; have legal custody of a child younger than 12 if serving on the jury leaves that child unsupervised; they’re a student in secondary school or institution of higher education; they’re an employee or officer in the legislative branch of the government; they’re the primary caretaker for a person who can’t care for himself or herself; or they’re active duty military deployed out of their county of residence or away from their home station.
A district judge also may excuse people who have a physical or mental impairment or inability to comprehend the English language, or if serving would require a juror to serve on a religious holiday the juror observes. A judge also can consider exempting a potential juror for any hardship that serving on a jury might cause a person. That might be your only hope.
I should tell you, though, that even though the state mask mandate has been lifted and businesses are allowed to fully open again, precautions are still in place for jury duty. District Clerk Trey Hattaway said those precautions should allow for trials to be conducted safely.
“With each jury summons we mail out, a COVID questionnaire is enclosed,” he said in an email. “The questionnaire attempts to vet each prospective juror as to their exposure to the coronavirus. If any of their answers are in the affirmative, we ask them to sign the questionnaire, mail it back to us and we excuse them from service. If those questions do not exempt them, they would have the opportunity to discuss their situation with a judge before being seated as a possible juror on the day of their summons.”
Jury trials in Gregg County are conducted at the Maude Cobb Convention Center and will be for the next several months, Hattaway said.
“Even though numbers are on the decline in our area, the steps we have taken at Maude Cobb (masks required, all seats six feet apart, etc.), we feel, will help mitigate fears and allow for a safe process to carry on with the business of holding trials,” he said.
Q: I’m wondering about the airplane and pilot that was on top of the gas station at the corner of H.G. Mosley and Highway 80? I drive by there often. It’s been gone for a while.
A: I spoke to Richard Lee, the man who previously operated the gas station, including at the time that the plane was removed in February 2020. (I should note that he wasn’t the person who originally installed the plane and pilot. That happened when Don Talley owned the gas station.)
Lee said the plane had to be removed because its weight was damaging the roof of the gas station. The pilot — which he said actually turned out to be a female dummy — had been up there a long time and was worse for the wear.
Q: We were driving downtown today and went by the newspaper building. Noticed “For Sale” signs on the building. What’s up?
A: It’s actually not a for sale sign. It is a sign for real estate firm Coldwell Banker Lenhart Commercial, and if you look closely at the top of the sign, there’s a couple of smaller attachments that say we have office space for lease, with spaces of 2,000- to 12,000-square-feet available. The News-Journal is a large building, and we have some extra space for any companies looking for office space.
Q: What happened to the oil and gas report in the Sunday business section?
A: The staff member responsible for compiling that data experienced some medical issues. It took us a bit to regroup, but hopefully you saw it has now returned as of this past Sunday.