ATLANTA — Juror No. 529, one of hundreds of people summoned ahead of the sweeping gang trial involving rapper Young Thug, didn’t have to hang around long after Chief Judge Ural Glanville asked to hear his reasons for requesting a hardship deferral.
The candidate has childcare responsibilities, he explained, and a unique set of job requirements. An aircraft technician, the potential juror is responsible for taking care of Waffle House’s fleet of five private jets, used to fly the company’s middle management across the country.
“Fascinating,” Glanville said before granting the hardship request.
Juror No. 529 scattered, one of 20 excused Wednesday.
Nearly a month into the jury selection process, Glanville is still evaluating hardships and not a single juror has been seated. Those excused from service include people with financial issues, childcare difficulties and those who look after ailing spouses or parents.
Others excused have been small business owners with no one else to help out, people who have already booked travel and those whose companies don’t pay for more than a few days of jury service.
“For everyone here, the length of the trial is going to be an upset to their ordinary life,” Glanville told Juror No. 312 when she raised concerns about caring for her aging parents and getting her teenage daughter into college.
Others have said they can’t afford to pay their mortgage or rent if they must serve for the six to nine months, which is how long the trial is expected to take. Of the 600 potential jurors who showed up for court at the beginning of the year, more than 200 have claimed a hardship.
Another 300 potential jurors are set to report Feb. 24 to replace those who have been excused for hardships. About 250 people have been excused so far.
“If I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid,” Juror No. 323 told the judge. “If I were to not work for six to nine months, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in Fulton County anymore.”
A speech pathologist, the candidate said she is a contract employee with limited savings and a job that only offers five paid days off each year. Others have said their careers could be jeopardized by having to miss months for jury duty. Potential jurors angling for promotions have told the judge they risk missing raises if they miss out on nearly a year’s worth of projects.
Juror No. 149 expressed frustration over having to repeatedly come to court.
”You have no idea what a hardship (jury duty) has been,” the single mother told Glanville before being asked to come back yet again for additional questioning. Juror No. 349 lives in south Fulton County and has struggled to make it to court as both his and his wife’s cars are broken down, he told the judge.
“I’ve been borrowing cars to get up here because I ain’t got no ride,” said the juror. His mother has been kind enough to let him borrow her car for now, but there’s no telling how long it might take him to fix his own vehicle, he said.
For hardship screening, jurors are typically told to come back in groups of 25 or 30 on certain days for questioning. That process seems to be working better than having huge groups come in and stand around all day, often leaving without being heard by the judge and told to come yet again.
The process has also been delayed by numerous contraband incidents.
In assessing hardships, Glanville questioned potential jurors about their salaries and savings. One man, who said he makes about $30,000 a year, was asked to come back for further questioning after divulging that his wife makes more than $600,000.
A potential juror who said she makes about $250,000 was excused after letting the judge know how the past few weeks have been for her.
”I resent the fact I’ve been pulled from work for four days,” the woman said.
Others have had to delay medical procedures.
Juror No. 493 has a torn rotator cuff but said she hasn’t been able to schedule surgery because she’s been in court for three weeks. She was excused.
Others have told the judge they have crippling anxiety that would impair their ability to listen to the facts and be fair to both sides. People with signed letters from their doctors and therapists are typically excused.
The judge said he expects juror hardships will last several more weeks and has said more than once, “We understand this is an inconvenience for everyone.”