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by Abigail Van Buren

Professional Juries Violate the Spirit of Our Republic

DEAR ABBY: The term "professional juror" is an oxymoron. A jury, by its very character, is an amateur body composed of ordinary citizens who represent a cross section of the community. As soon as the hearing body becomes "professional," it is no longer a jury.

Professional jury systems have already been tried. They have been called "special juries" or "blue ribbon panels," and the results were often disastrous and supported the tyrannies that sponsored them.

The amateur jury has a proud record. When it acts independently and is fully informed of its powers and duties, it is our strongest protector of liberty and the greatest of all defenses against oppression.

A jury of one's peers is the essence of our American constitutional republic. It is the only right of the people held in such high esteem by our Founding Fathers that it is guaranteed by three specific mentions in our Constitution, as well as secondary mentions elsewhere. A "professional" system would violate all these parts of the Constitution.

The answer to your reader's concern is not to destroy our jury system, but to require courts to show respect for jurors regarding time, compensation, etc. Contrary to popular belief, the juror is the highest-ranking official in the courtroom, for he or she is the one responsible for the verdict. -- GODFREY D. LEHMAN, SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR MR. LEHMAN: I received a slew of compelling letters (such as your own) that argue persuasively against tinkering with our jury system: Read on:

DEAR ABBY: American juries are supposed to be a group of the defendant's peers, but because most companies don't pay their employees while they serve on jury duty, most Americans cannot afford to serve in this capacity. So, "peers" turn out to be retired folks, the rich, those who cannot work for some reason, homemakers, a few who are willing to make a financial sacrifice, and those who think they can later write a book about their experiences.

There should be a law requiring companies over a certain size to reimburse employees for jury duty. Jury duty should not be a sacrifice, but a welcomed duty and an educational experience. Jurors need not be paid other than their normal salaries, and most Americans would be happy to serve their beloved country in this manner. -- SARA LOUISE NORTH, LA MESA, CALIF.