ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – A jury summons left a St. Peters family jumping over hurdles and calling for a complete review of the court’s jury selection process.
Despise turned passion
Rick and Joan Lister watched their son Chris Lister play soccer and volleyball growing up, but he took a full sprint into a new love after high school.
“He took up running in college to work off stress,” Rick said. “Was it three treadmills he destroyed of ours? Then he started running outside.”
Chris ran marathon after marathon, including his last run in 2012.
The last run
“He was in second place, gaining on the first-place person, and unfortunately, that put him in the open, that allowed the accident to happen,” Rick said.
A car hit Chris, who was only 25 at the time.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“We had to decide on whether to do craniology, where they remove part of the skull so the brain could swell out,” Rick said.
The accident happened on Chris’ mother’s birthday. Rick and Joan decided to have the surgery.
“They didn’t think he was going to make it, and each day he got a little … I won’t say better, but he kept hanging on. It’s been a fight ever since,” Joan said.
Chris, now 36, requires around-the-clock care and lives in a health and rehabilitation facility.
His parents serve as his legal guardians and receive his mail, including a summons for jury duty to appear at the St. Charles County Courthouse.
“I went online immediately to the questionnaire and responded as someone for him,” Rick said. “Listed his medical conditions: traumatic brain injury, nonverbal, non-arbitrary, and he lived in a nursing home.”
Rick uploaded Chris’ medical review report from the health facility to the online jury portal website, which lists his son’s traumatic brain injury.
The court denied the family’s request to disqualify him.
“Your disqualification request from jury service for Mental or Physical Illness or Infirmity has been denied. Please follow the instructions on the summons that was mailed to you.”St. Charles County Court
“I had no idea what the ramifications would be of being denied, and we didn’t take him up there,” Rick said. “He’s on Medicare and Medicaid. Is there some way that could be impacted?”
Joan was upset when they received the court’s response and wanted to prove a point because she knew her son had already been through so much.
“I really wanted to take him down there if it wasn’t so hard on him and wheel him into the courtroom,” she said. “It’s very hard on him to get him moving around and all that kind of stuff.”
Why won’t the court listen?
State Rep. Wendy Hausman (District 65-R) said she hates that the Lister family had to go through this and made some calls to the court’s top judge.
“When I talked to Judge McDonough, he said that it’s not normally like this,” Hausman said.
She said 11th Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Chris McDonough recalled the jury summons, meaning Chris did not have to appear.
Hausman said the court is striving to keep pace as St. Charles County is rapidly expanding and has heard several measures are being taken to address the concerns.
“I hope it’s just an oversight. Hopefully, this will never happen again,” she said.
Not the only one
It’s not the first, though.
Beth Meitner, 33, received a jury summons from the same St. Charles County Courthouse back in May.
Since a horrible car crash, her mother, Dorothy Mintner, said Beth requires around-the-clock care.
“Beth is unable to maintain her body temperature, and she is on tube feedings, plus she needs to be monitored 24/7,” Dorothy said.
Dorothy said she called the court but was told to fill out a questionnaire. She didn’t have a doctor’s note, but Dorothy filled out the questions on the form and was told Beth would still have to appear.
“I decided I would just bring Beth on the date she was summoned for,” Dorothy said.
The court canceled jury duty for everyone the day before, so Beth did not have to appear.
McDonough would not do an on-camera interview but issued a written statement that the court would not comment about the individual circumstances underlying a decision to excuse a particular person from jury service.
“Whenever sufficient information is presented to the court establishing one is unable to serve due to a disability that cannot be accommodated, the court does its level best to make that determination and excuse such person as early in the process as possible in an effort to minimize any hardship or inconvenience,” McDonough wrote.
The presiding judge said court staff works hard to ensure all legally qualified citizens are afforded the opportunity to serve as prospective jurors.
Calling for change
“They say a process exists, but I haven’t seen anything that indicates that. Just immediate rejections, especially with the amount of information that was provided,” Rick said.
The Lister family thinks there should be an overhaul of how the court reviews requests to dismiss potential jurors.
“Make this court system better to not put people through all this. It’s ridiculous,” Joan said. “We shouldn’t have to do this for our kids, our adults, or whatever it is that can’t serve.”
Rick said he’s sure the court has heard every excuse in the book about jury duty but thinks the court should have a different type of review process when it receives medical reports from hospitals or health and rehabilitation facilities.
“Immediately when they see a heading from a nursing home, let’s kind of switch the compassion switch a little bit and check into this a little bit, before arbitrarily sending a rejection,” Rick said.
Joan said more compassion from the courts could go a long way, considering it goes beyond just the person receiving the summons; it affects the caregivers, too.
“On top of a daily stress, this is just more stuff we have to deal with,” Joan said.