A man who was summoned for jury duty leading up to the Danford Grant rape trial was faced with a dilemma when asked by the court if there was any reason he might be unable to serve.
Ronald Jefferson told King County Superior Court Judge William Downing that his employer would not let him off work for the trial, which was expected to last more than four weeks.
While it is common for potential jurors to express concern over missing work, Jefferson's case was quite unusual and even Judge Downing laughed when he heard who Jefferson worked for.
"I'm a chemical dependency program screener," Jefferson told the court. "...for King County."
The same county that called Jefferson to serve, was the same county that told him he would be unable to take time off work during the trial.
Jefferson works for the King County Department of Community and Health Services and picks up chronic inebriates off the street to bring them to a safe haven. During jury selection, he told the court that he would still be required to work his 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. night shift, despite having to be in court from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day. He did not ask to be excused from jury duty, but told Judge Downing that he might have trouble focusing in court because he would get only a few hours of sleep.
While Jefferson made it to the second day of jury selection, he was not chosen to be on the final jury. Either way, he would not have served because Danford Grant, a prominent Seattle attorney charged with a string of massage parlor rapes, took a last-minute plea deal with prosecutors to avoid trial.
Still, Jefferson's dilemma raises questions about why King County would refuse to let an employee take time off work to serve on a King County jury, considering they require other citizens to put their lives on hold.
"If you are scheduled for jury duty during your normal working hours, we're going to provide release time for you during that time," said Kendall Hodson, a manager in the King County Human Resources Division. "It's important to us that we support employees in doing their civic duty."
But Hodson said the county's jury duty policies are not so clear for the roughly 1,000 employees who do shift work.
Employees such as Metro drivers, jail staff, and sheriff's deputies work under contracts that may not explicitly provide for time off if their shifts do not overlap with a trial.
In the case of Ronald Jefferson, his union contract did not give his supervisors any direction on what to do if he got called for jury duty. In the end, since the trial would not overlap with his night shift, Jefferson's supervisor told him he would have to work.
"In this particular situation, my understanding is that the supervisor took a pretty literal read of what our personnel policy is," Hodson said. "I think it's an unfortunate situation where we need to probably be a little more flexible than we were and we definitely wouldn't want this to happen moving forward."
Hodson said King County has taken immediate steps to fix the problem.
"We'll want to learn from it," she said. "Because this has come to our attention, this is at the top of the list now of things to take a look at."
She said the county will review the language in their contracts and train supervisors to better handle such situations.
"We're talking about quite a few collective bargaining agreements that we're going to want to take a look at. Equally important, is coaching our staff on how we always want to take a problem-solving approach whenever an employee has a situation like this."