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Complaint about jury summons stopped short of contempt

Court personnel are on the front lines of customer service every day. So it’s nice when someone notices these public servants can’t always respond to the guff they can get when dealing with the public.

When he got a summons to appear for jury duty in Norfolk Circuit Court, James C. Henderson went to the courthouse, determined to let them know he would not serve. When jury administrator Anne Davis tried to advise Henderson about how to prepare a written request to be excused by the court’s jury commissioners, Henderson “began yelling and gesturing … and accusing people of lying to him,” according to a Court of Appeals review of Henderson’s misdemeanor contempt conviction.

Davis said Henderson’s voice “echoed down the hallway” of the courthouse, and she described his behavior as “very loud and obnoxious.” Henderson yelled at Davis and insisted on seeing a judge.

Davis took Henderson, who was “flailing” and “thrashing around,” to the office of Sandra Claxton, “the supervisor for the judges’ offices in Norfolk Circuit Court.” He was still agitated, but began to calm down as Claxton again explained the procedure for requesting to be excused from jury service. Claxton wrote Henderson’s name and number on the appropriate form, photocopied it for him, and told him she would pass the information to the supervising judge.

The Norfolk Circuit Court convicted Henderson of contempt for obstruction of the administration of justice and resistance to lawful court process, but the Virginia Court of Appeals reversed that conviction.

Loud and rude though he was, Henderson didn’t really disrupt the administration of justice.

Nothing he did kept Davis and Claxton from going about their appointed tasks.

“Davis and Claxton performed their duties admirably in dealing with a difficult and recalcitrant juror,” wrote Senior Judge Sam W. Coleman III in his Nov. 16 unpublished opinion.

All in a day’s work, they’d probably tell you.

By Deborah Elkins

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