There are probably few people who welcome a letter informing them that they've been picked for jury duty.
But jury duty isn't something to be feared, according to Chief District Court Judge Kurt Wilke. He said Monday that the chances of an individual being picked to serve on a jury during a trial are pretty slim, and added that many jurors later report that they enjoyed the experience.
Wilke talked to the Fort Dodge Noon Rotary Club about Iowa's trial courts. And because he gets lots of questions about jury duty, he also explained how jurors are picked and what they can expect.
KURT?WILKE, chief District Court judge for the 2nd Judicial District of Iowa, speaks to members of Fort Dodge Noon Rotary Monday.
He addressed the club during its meeting at the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites.
Wilke, of Fort Dodge, presides over the 2nd Judicial District, which includes Webster County and 21 other counties. He said the 2nd Judicial District is the largest one in terms of land area and the second largest in terms of population.
He explained that jurors in Iowa are picked from lists of registered voters, vehicle owners and property owners.
''It is the luck of the draw - it really is,'' he said.
Those who are called for jury duty might not end up on a jury that's hearing a trial, according to the judge.
''There's a four to one chance you won't be selected,'' he said. ''You don't have a great chance of getting on a trial.''
Those who do serve on a trial will not likely see their lives disrupted by jury service, he said.
''If you are selected the chances are better that you will enjoy the experience,'' he said.
Wilke said post-trial interviews with jurors have revealed that they found their service to be enjoyable and educational.
Jurors are paid $30 a day for their first seven days of service. The pay increases to $50 for every day after the first seven. Jurors also receive reimbursement for mileage and parking expenses.
The trial court system that jurors participate in today was established in 1972. Wilke said Iowa once had municipal and county courts in addition to district courts. Fort Dodge, he said, had a justice of the peace and a police court. All those courts were abolished when the current system was enacted.
''The efficiency of the trial courts has greatly improved since the pre-1972 days,'' Wilke said. ''The changes that were made 40-odd years ago put in place a state court system that, according to the United States Chamber of Commerce, ranks as one of the top ones in the nation.''
Magistrate Court is the entry point into that system. Wilke said everyone accused of a crime makes their first appearance in Magistrate Court. Magistrate Court also has jurisdiction over minor crimes called simple misdemeanors. Magistrates additionally issue warrants and emergency commitals for mental health crises.
On the civil side of the docket, Magistrate Court has jurisdiction over lawsuits in which the amount of money at stake is less than $5,000.
In Webster County, there are three magistrates: Bill Habhab, Steve Kersten and Bill Thatcher.
Wilke called Magistrate Court the ''most utilized court in our judicial system.''
Iowa's judicial system includes a separate juvenile court, but Wilke said District Court judges are now handling much of the juvenile caseload. Juvenile court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by minors and neglect situations known as child in need of assistance cases.
There is also a District Associate Court which handles misdemeanors, low-level felonies called Class D felonies and civil cases in which the amount of money at stake is less than $10,000. Angela Doyle is the only District Associate Court judge in Webster County.
Wilke said District Court, the top trial-level court, is authorized to hear nearly any kind of case. Wilke and Tom Bice are the District Court judges who live in Webster County, but they travel to hear cases in the district's other counties.