South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — Railton Loy was more than a little surprised recently when he found a summons in the mail ordering him to appear for jury duty.
The Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Osceola, was fairly certain he wouldn’t make the best candidate.
"I should not be on any jury, you know that," Loy said during a recent phone interview. "I’m the imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. I should be removed."
After receiving the summons, Loy called the St. Joseph County courthouse and also sent The Tribune a letter requesting he be excused.
If ordered to appear, Loy said, he planned to wear his full KKK uniform to jury selection in the hopes of being "thrown out."
The Klansman was granted his wish this week when he was excused by St. Joseph Judge Roland Chamblee Jr.’s court.
Bailiff Julie Igaz confirmed the court received a phone message from Loy in which he expressed his affiliation and said he couldn’t be fair unless "the defendant was white."
Igaz said she did not want to waste the court’s time, and she accepted his reason for deferral.
It’s not uncommon for potential jurors to ask they be removed from jury duty, according to court officials, but Loy’s reason was relatively rare.
Generally the primary reasons a juror is automatically deferred relates to "hardship, extreme inconvenience, or necessity," according to jury rules. The ultimate decision for deferment, however, is up to a judge.
Chamblee said he fully agreed with Igaz’s deferral.
"I’m not requiring him to be here," Chamblee said. "I saw no reason to subject the criminal justice system to Mr. Loy as a juror."
Had Loy appeared, he would have likely been dismissed, Chamblee said, as anyone would be if they announced their inclination to be unfair.
"The whole purpose (of being a juror) is to be fair and impartial," the judge said. "If we have someone who says they cannot be fair ... we can’t take that chance."
Loy said he appreciated being excused. He voiced his surprise at even being called for jury duty, considering his position.
But in a sea of forms, Loy was just another name in a pool of potential jurors.
In fact, court officials said Loy even returned a questionnaire sent to his home with no mention of his affiliation.
All potential jurors are sent a questionnaire within a year of being called; the pool of jurors is chosen from the returned forms.
When asked about the questionnaire, Loy said he didn’t remember returning one. But if he did, Loy said, he wouldn’t have put his KKK affiliation. Loy said he doesn’t announce his membership on "things like that" for protection.
How jurors are chosen
The Klansman apparently just assumed his name would be recognized. But that recognition is highly unlikely in a set of 6,000 questionnaires that go out each year.
According to Evans, many of the forms are not returned, have faulty addresses or must be automatically excused because of several reasons including lack of U.S. or local residency, lack of mental capacity, or being inability to meet the age requirement of 18.
St. Joseph County court officials have also recently streamlined the selection process to save time and money.
In the past, 4,000 questionnaires went out every two months. After the 60 days were up, another set of 4,000 would go out, dropping a significant amount of potential jurors and increasing the time and cost of new mailings.
"Now, we’ve solved that," Court Administrator Pat Evans said, explaining that now, 6,000 forms go out near the start of each year, the returned set of which will be valid throughout the entire year. The new process started in January.
Names in the random drawing are taken from Bureau of Motor Vehicle records, the phone book and tax records.
Court officials stress it takes a legitimate reason to get out of jury duty and that anyone calling has to provide proof of why they should be excused or otherwise appear in court.
"They have to prove it," Igaz said. "John Smith can’t just call and say, ‘I can’t be fair.’"
In Loy’s case, Igaz said she was familiar with his affiliation after she heard his message and remembered his name.
Chamblee said he couldn’t say what would have happened had Loy arrived at court in his Klan uniform. The judge added that he would have crossed that bridge when he came to it.