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In Tactical Mode....
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Friday, July 18, 2008
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HOLYOKE - Twice charged with failing to report for jury duty, a veterans' services officer for the city is taking his case to trial next week.

A conviction could carry a fine of up to $2,000 or community service for Michael Franco, 45, who claims he doesn't want to perform jury duty because he believes the state Trial Court is "systematically corrupted and politically motivated."

He says he bases his argument on personal experience during a custody battle with his ex-wife about their 10-year-old daughter.

Though it's extremely rare for an individual to be charged with failing to report, the state monitors jury duty service closely, according to Jury Commissioner Pamela J. Wood. "To get to the point of a trial, it's very rare," Wood said this week.

Franco is due to face trial Tuesday in Westfield District Court for having failed to appear there for jury duty on Jan. 24, 2006. He faces a second count for failing to report for jury duty in Springfield District Court; no details on the status of that case were available.

In the five years Wood has served as the state's jury commissioner, she said she can recall only two other instances in which someone went to trial on a charge of failing to report for jury duty. Wood said she was not previously aware of Franco's case.

Last year, the state issued 870,206 summons to perform jury duty, Wood said.
Of those summonsed, a total of 71,826 or 8.2 percent failed to respond, Wood said. An additional 8,907 people or 1 percent responded but failed to report for jury duty.

Jury duty is considered a cornerstone of the country's justice system. When state Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall appointed Wood as jury commissioner in 2005, Marshall said, "Jury service, one of our society's most important civic responsibilities, gives the public the greatest opportunity to participate in our justice system." The chief justice said it is an integral component of the system "to safeguard our constitutional right to trial by jury."

Marshall declined Wednesday to comment on Franco's case since it is a pending legal matter. But in a video presented to all citizens performing jury duty, Marshall talks extensively about the vital importance of performing jury duty.

"You have come today to perform one of the most important duties of a citizen," Marshall states in the video. "Trial by a jury is a fundamental right in our country. ... We are fortunate to live in a society protected by a free, open and independent system of justice in which we can all participate. By participating as jurors, you protect everyone who uses the courts by ensuring that issues of fact are decided by a representative group of impartial citizens," Marshall states.

Franco works in Holyoke's veterans' services office, where he is currently paid $32,252 per year, according to Mayor Michael J. Sullivan. Sullivan said Franco will have to take a personal or vacation day to appear at his trial.

At this point, Sullivan said, Franco has done nothing to jeopardize his job. "We won't try to restrict people's opinions and right to have free speech," Sullivan said.

But if Franco is found guilty, Sullivan said he will ask the city's Law Department to review whether such a finding warrants any action in connection with his employment.

"We would have to review the charges and speak with his direct supervisor," Sullivan said.

Employers by law are required to pay jurors for work missed during their first three days of service. After three days, the state will reimburse jurors up to $50 per day.

Franco realizes he could end all this hassle if he simply performed jury duty. But he insisted he believes he needs to take a stand against what he sees as the court's bias against "heterosexual men and fathers" based on his personal experience.

Franco, a failed candidate for Governor's Council, state representative and City Council, is running again for the 8th District seat on the Governor's Council now held by Thomas T. Merrigan and has made previous statements concerning his position about the court system. The council acts on nominations from the governor for judicial appointments.
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