Snow duty: Philly jurors still had to show up in the storm

And then they were sent home two hours later.

Philadelphia City Hall in the snow

Philadelphia City Hall in the snow

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

Correction appended

Before the snow started to fall on Wednesday evening, Kathy Toomey was excited to be scheduled for duty on Thursday morning. It was going to be her first time, and she was eager to see how the courts work from the inside.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the legal process,” Toomey said. “This, to me, was something that would be a learning experience.”

At about 6 a.m. on Thursday, Philadelphia Courts announced on Twitter that all courts would be open despite the weather — and all jurors were to report for duty as scheduled.

This morning, Toomey was less excited.

“The conditions in which we’re doing this are less than stellar,” she added. “It’s very hazardous to ask people to travel this far.”

Toomey, 61, was actually scheduled for duty in U.S. District Court, not Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. But she may not have realized the difference, because she headed into the city anyway.

From her Garnet Valley home, it’s about a seven minute drive to the Marcus Hook Regional Rail station. Then it’s another 40 minutes on the Newark/Wilmington line to Jefferson Station.

Today, her commute doubled. Because of all the snow, it took her 25 minutes to get to the station. Then her first train was cancelled, and her second train was delayed about 20 minutes. A switch problem on the train delayed her another five minutes.

And she couldn’t have driven to the city — the roads in her town hadn’t been plowed yet.

“There was no way,” Toomey said. “My roads around me were barely passable. I was slipping all over the place.”

Toomey wasn’t alone in her frustration.

After a handful of angry replies on Twitter, Philadelphia Courts backtracked. Just after 10 a.m., the court account sent a tweet that “deteriorating weather conditions” meant everyone could go home at noon, except “critical court services,” which would continue as scheduled.

Critical court services include bail acceptance, arraignment hearings and emergency protection from abuse, said Gabriel Roberts, the director of communications for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. Jurors who were dismissed early still received credit for a full day of service.

After Toomey was dismissed for the day, she said, she waited an hour to catch a train out of Jefferson Station, only to be kicked off the train at Suburban Station due to an engineering issue. She waited another hour for the next train home.

Still, Toomey said staff members did their best to rectify the situation.

“They recognized the effort everyone put in to get here today, when the court should have been closed,” Toomey said. “They are going to make changes about how this is handled in the future due to all the issues today. So something good came of this.”

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