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Breastfeeding Mom in Maryland Could Face Jail Time for Postponing Jury Duty

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When I was about 36 weeks pregnant with our first baby, I had to go to court for jury duty. I waddled my way into the courthouse and settled uneasily into the wooden bench. Fortunately, the lawyers took one look at me and let me go. Wise decision, I believe. Had they picked me, I would have had to raise my hand every hour to go to the bathroom.
Before that day, I had considered postponing my jury duty until after the baby was born. But I soon realized that didn’t make sense since I was planning to work from home and breastfeed. Without a full-time sitter, jury duty would have been near impossible. I had served on a week-long trial once before, so I knew what I was in for.
Given the challenges of breastfeeding and serving jury duty, there are twelve states that actually exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty (California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon and Virginia). Click here to learn about the laws in your state.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to see what’s happened to a Maryland mom. A judge sentenced her to a night in jail or a $150 fine, after she asked to postpone her jury duty. Here’s the story from one of the local TV stations:
Elizabeth Jett’s baby boy Henry was less than 12 weeks old when she was called for jury duty. “I think it’s a case of priorities. Taking care of your children should be your first priority. Jury duty can always come later,” Jett said.
Jett asked to postpone and serve during the Summer, when Henry would be older and her mother, a full-time teacher, could take care of him and his five-year-old brother.
The Carroll County judge said Jett was in contempt of court, which Jett thought was unbelievable. “I was just shocked. I couldn’t even put it into words,” she said.
Legislation that would allow nursing mothers with children under the age of two to be excused from jury duty was introduced for the second time. When the plan was proposed in 2004, many lawmakers shot it down.
Brian Frosh, Chair for the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the law would cause more people to try to postpone their duties, “If you start saying, we’re gonna excuse people for breastfeeding, you’ve gotta say ok to kidney dialysis, chemotherapy and all the other maladies that afflict the human condition.”
Frosh said the law already gives judges broad discretion to excuse residents from jury duty, “So what we want is for judges to use their discretion liberally.”
As for Elizabeth Jett, she has since asked for a waiver, because she can’t afford the fine. The judge in the case, Barry Hughes, did not want to comment. The jury commissioner hung up on Andrea McCarren, as soon as she identified herself as a reporter.

Click on this link to watch the video from the TV station. You can read more about this story from the Baltimore Examiner.



9 Responses to “Breastfeeding Mom in Maryland Could Face Jail Time for Postponing Jury Duty”

Huh. I didn’t realize breastfeeding was a malady. Hopefully, Johnson & Johnson’s R&D labs can come up with a cure!

Why are government officials such dumb bunnies about breastfeeding? Oh yeah–because they likely don’t know too many women who breastfeed. Sigh.

I am horrified!!!! I think Ms. Jett should bring her young son to court with her and feed him whenever she chooses — and NOT be discreet about it. If the lawyers, judge, litigants, or anyone else in the courtroom has a problem with that, TOO BAD FOR THEM!!!! How can the judge hold her in contempt?! How can they jail or fine her?! By choice, I didn’t breastfeed my children for very long, but I am mortified!!! Here in MA, you can postpone jury duty 1 year w/o any reason. But, I also know that recently, women here in Boston, are trying to get some real laws passed or at least some sort of regulations within the courts themselves.
I hope Ms. Jett is stubborn and refuses to pay the fine. Let’s watch them haul her off to court! Please keep us posted.

I am so tired of these ignorant people. What are her rights as far as bringing her baby or taking time to pump? Surely they can’t expect her to become engorged and suffer for hours on end! It’s so ridiculous how behind the times we are in what some consider to be one of the “greatest” nations in the world. Every mom should be free to breastfeed and care for her children!

Breastfeeding isn’t a malady. It’s feeding your child! Wow! People can be so ignorant! I know that if I left my Anna for more than two to four hours at that age I would be in so much pain that I would want to throw up! Not to mention I didn’t pump so my little girl would starve!

I am the constituent who got former State Senator Bob Hooper (RIP) to sponsor the exclusion bill for breastffeding moms back in 2004. Brian Frosh told me and other mothers at the hearing for that bill that (not a direct qoute but close) “You all got your breastffeding in public bill past a few years ago, so just bring the baby to court!” What a jerk. Children and babies are not allowed in court! I hope that Senator Jacobs is successful in getting this bill thru Frosh’s damned committee this year.

Catherine,
Thanks for the insight. Keep us posted if you hear anything about how this turns out.
Andi

Wait a sec – if you read the Baltimore Sun full article, you get a clearer picture.
It looks like there were several *process* problems. As I reconstruct it:
a) She got a notice to attend jury duty. It did not leave her enough time to find affordable daycare.
b) she wrote a letter in response saying these things and asking to be excused (or shifted).
c) She received no response from court and she did not show up to Jury Duty in October.
d) In January, she responded to a summons to court to “talk to the judge.” It turned out to be a hearing as to why she hadn’t show up for jury duty. She was found in contempt for not showing up, and fined.
Essentially, she ran up against “standard procedures.” She failed to show for jury duty, and had not received permission to skip it. Thus she was found in contempt for failing to show. Requesting permission to *have missed* it at the contempt hearing was too late.
In hindsight, when she hadn’t heard back by the date of her jury duty, her solution was to show up for Jury duty with 2 kids and say “I can’t find daycare.” She would have been excused right then, or her request to postpone might have been listened to. But once she had “broken the law,” – failed to show without being excused – she was doomed.
The system is, in my mind, broken to the effect that folks with barriers to service have to fight red tape (on the phone, in writing or in person) in order to be excused. She also should have gotten a PROMPT reply (like by phone) to her written request.
But I think the lawmakers are correct – they don’t need a specific law exempting folks who are breasfeeding. The principle of Universal design says that they need to fix the *notification system* and make it more responsive to those who need/wish to rearrange service ro be excused.

Seems to me it’s only right to exempt a breastfeeding woman. The reasons given here are plenty.
What I take except to is Frosh’s idiotic statment “If you start saying, we’re gonna excuse people for breastfeeding, you’ve gotta say ok to kidney dialysis, chemotherapy and all the other maladies…”
Um, HELLOOOO, chemotherapy? Someone is dying of cancer but you want to make sure some drug-dealing bozo who tried to flush his kid down the toilet gets a ‘fair’ trail? Get real.
Did you notice Mr. Frosh is exempt? Oh yeah, HE hold a political office.
Like good ol’ Tom Hayden put it – “Those laws are for them, they’re not for us”.

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