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Adventures in Customer Service: Your DC Gov't At Work

It's time to play You Be the D.C. Citizen. In today's game, I will provide the text of two missives I received in the mail on the same day from the District's Superior Court. Your mission is to recommend my proper course of action.

Here we go:

Letter #1:

Dear Citizen: Your request for deferment was received and considered. Please be advised that your juror service has been deferred until 04/04/2007 at 10:30 AM. Please note this date and time on your calendar.... The Court extends its gratitude to you for your willingness to fulfill your obligation as a citizen of your community.

Duane B. Delaney
Clerk of the Court

Letter #2:

Dear Citizen: Thank you for the timely return of the juror questionnaire that was recently sent to you by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. While the Court appreciates your attention to this matter, this notice is to inform you that your juror service has been cancelled and it will not be necessary for you to appear on the scheduled date and time. The Court extends its gratitude to you for your willingness to fullfill your obligation as a citizen of your community.

Duane B. Delaney
Clerk of the Court

Ok: Now, aside from the fact that Mr. Delaney's ability to spell may have diminished between Letter #1 and Letter #2 (fulfill/fullfill), this raises some questions: Should I show up on the date specified in Letter #1? Should I ignore the whole thing? Should I dive into the living hell of the bureaucracy and try to get Letter #3 out of the court with a definitive ruling on which letter is operative? You make the call: I will follow the suggestions of the plurality of writers on this comment board. Have at it.

By Marc Fisher |  December 14, 2006; 7:26 AM ET
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Your current obligation to juror service has been cancelled because it has been deferred until April.

Granted, they could have consolidated the two letters into one coherent message, but the clerk of courts is likely evaluated or rated based on the number of form letters mailed out. These "metrics" provide management types an objective means to determine what great work their employees do. You can't argue with numbers.

Posted by: athea | December 14, 2006 8:40 AM

Yeah, it seemed blindingly obvious to me that the canceled date referred to the one that was actually deferred. When they decided you didn't have to show up NOW, that probably triggered the cancellation letter.

But you go ahead and stay home in April, it'll make for a great, heart-string-tugging column when they cite you for missing it.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | December 14, 2006 9:23 AM

I had a similar question for the DC Court with respect to my second jury notice in a year, a result of fixing a typo in my name on the voter rolls.

I called and spoke to someone in the clerk's office. They answered all of my questions, cancelled my jury service, and sent a letter verifying this the next day.

Sometimes these things happen. Call and give them a chance to straighten it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by: DC | December 14, 2006 9:26 AM

Ha! That's great, I love my city! Show up in April. It's simply risk vs. reward.

Of course if you end up stuck on a case similar to what my wife did, the risk may be worth it.

Just make sure the new jury travel allotment reflects METRO hikes!!

Posted by: ryan | December 14, 2006 9:31 AM

I agree with "DC." The people who work in the jury office are actually very nice and usually very helpful (unlike many DC municipal offices). I'd give them a call.

Posted by: CapHill | December 14, 2006 9:48 AM

Yet just another example of how customer service has fallen apart in our society. This looks a lot easier to fix than all my troubles I've had with cable, telephone, and internet companies... Good luck getting a letter 3. I'd say call and try to get them to tell you it's cancelled, but that would probably lead to some "customer service" type telling you everything's ok in the system and you don't have to show up- when in fact it's not and you have nothing showing that someone told you to stay home. So, if I couldn't get a letter clearly stating that I did not have to be there on that date, I'd show up. Worst case your time was wasted and you get sent home. Unfortunately when you are faced with an error- whether by large corporation or government- the burden is ALWAYS on the consumer and there is no accountability.
In trying to fix problems I've been transferred, laughed at, disconnected, lied to and told the problem was fixed, or a work order scheduled- only to call back and learn there was no record of my call or request.
Good luck! :)

Posted by: Chris | December 14, 2006 9:58 AM

I agree with athea. I'd call to confirm, though.

Posted by: Mark | December 14, 2006 10:33 AM

Personaly, I think you're on for April, but remember, dude, this is the legal system you're dealing with here- get EVERYTHING in writing.

Posted by: crc | December 14, 2006 10:41 AM

I would call for clarification and then get a 3rd letter confirming everything that was communicated through the phone call to have it in writing whether or not you need to showup in April.

Posted by: Chris | December 14, 2006 10:44 AM

Sheesh, I don't know, but a future blog idea would be to have residents vote on the local gov't department that consistently offers up to the public the most hostile employees. My vote goes to the public library system. As a former librarian, I am appalled by the brutally negative attitude of library workers in this city. Who hires these people? And who retains them year after year? And if the surliness wasn't enough to drive visitors away, the horrible quality of the book collections would do it. It's enough to send me and my kids to the Montgomery County libraries even though we have a branch about 12 blocks away. Sad!

Posted by: Glover Park | December 14, 2006 10:55 AM

I'd call to confirm but I think it's just a cancellation of service because it's been deferred. But then if they told me the whole thing was cancelled I'd still show up in April just to be on the safe side.

Posted by: Stick | December 14, 2006 10:56 AM

Athea has it right, I think. One letter cancels the original summons, and the other informs you that due to that cancellation ("deferral"), your new date is in April. In a non-bureacratic world, this information would be contained in a single letter. But in a bureacracy, you need to receive on letter of deferral, and then another letter notifying you of the new date. Give them a call to be certain, but I'd plan to show up in April.

Posted by: SJ | December 14, 2006 11:02 AM

Reminds me of the old joke:
I'd like a cup of coffee without cream.
Sorry sir, we're out of cream. Would you like it without milk?

I think you should not show up, but in order to comply with the instructions you were given, you should not show up on April 4, 2007, rather than not showing up on whatever your original date was.

Actually, I think you should move out of the District as soon as possible, because otherwise you will find yourself in an endless loop.

Side note: I'm pleasantly surprised to see only the one spelling error in the letters. Wow.

Posted by: ajsmithva | December 14, 2006 11:09 AM


Your proper course of action is to move out of the District of Columbia to Princess Anne county.

Here on the Eastern Shore we don't have this sort of thing and if we did we'd solve it by driving down to the court house and speaking with a courteous, helpful and sympathetic clerk who'd say something like "Now, honey, don't fret. I've got you all fixed up. Sorry 'bout that. How's your wife? I haven't seen her in so long."

Posted by: Pocomoke | December 14, 2006 11:23 AM

Give the clerk's office a chance to clarify. They might be very helpful. But if you get the run-around, show up in April because it is your civic duty.

Posted by: dc18 | December 14, 2006 11:28 AM

I have always wondered - since these notices do not arrive via certified letter, and there is no receipt to ensure someone has received it, why not just ignore it, and then say you never got it if they bother to follow up (and if they don't, no worries)? Aside from the moral issues involved, unless they can prove you received the notice, I don't see how they can do anything to you if you ignore it.

Posted by: Manor Park | December 14, 2006 11:56 AM

If you get this mess sorted out, can I request your assistance in determining why I recentxly got a letter from the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, claiming that I owe income taxes from 1998 - when I actually moved out of the city on March 1 of that year and all of my taxes for the 1st 2 months of that year were correctly withheld from my paychecks while I lived in the District? And can anyone explain why it took them 8 years to locate me, making what was supposedly a $362 tax bill into a $975 nightmare of interest and penalties? I've filed my taxes in VA every year with the correct address of wherever I've been living at the time. You'd think that DC could have found me by now! And you'd also think that they'd provide some sort of proof of this alleged debt, considering that most people only keep tax returns for 7 years and I've already shredded that one! Anyone else ever experienced this? How'd you solve it?

Posted by: ex-dc resident | December 14, 2006 11:57 AM

I agree about the hostile library employees, although I have had better experiences at the branch libraries than at MLK. There is all this fuss right now about building a new central library, but if they don't do a better job with employees, it won't matter.

Posted by: DC | December 14, 2006 12:02 PM

The Former Owner of my DC House, who died in 1999, still gets mail for DC Jury Duty service. I've mailed same unopened envelopes back to DC Superior Court stating the person is deceased and no longer available to serve as a Juror.
This has happened every year for the past 4 years.

Posted by: SE DC | December 14, 2006 12:11 PM

I would get clarification on whether to report in April --

Posted by: James M | December 14, 2006 12:12 PM

For ex-dc resident,

Even though you had DC taxes withheld the first 2 months of the year in question, you still needed to file an income tax form for the time you were there. If you didn't fill out a DC tax form and a form for Virginia, you may be out-of-luck! Sorry.

Posted by: dsmac | December 14, 2006 1:39 PM


Posted by: Dunk U Very Much | December 14, 2006 3:50 PM

Marc, if the second notice is dated later than the first notice, you do not need to show up. You're so helpless (or is that hopeless).

Posted by: Rationale 101 | December 14, 2006 7:40 PM

For ex-dc resident: See if you can get hold of a Ms. Cromartie in the DC tax office. I'm not sure she works in the area you need, but it sounds right. If she is still there, she is your best hope of getting a straight, accurate answer, though the answer may not be what you want to hear. She was there as of 2003, when she saved our bacon by digging up a release of lien that she had helped us obtain in 1992.

Posted by: ajsmithva | December 15, 2006 9:11 AM

During the first 16 years I lived in D.C. I was summoned for jury duty six times and served on four juries. Three of those cases lasted two weeks. After that I said screw it and for the past nine years I've ignored all three summons that I received. And I don't feel the least bit bad about it and have no moral qualms whatsoever. I've done my duty more than anyone should have to. The D.C. jury system needs to be fixed!! So my advice to Marc is ignore the letters and any future ones as well.

Posted by: Cathedral Heights | December 15, 2006 9:41 AM

Raw, if you want the kind of jury for the rest of us that you would want if you ever needed one to hear a case of yours, what would you do?

Posted by: Red (but blue on the inside) in NW | December 15, 2006 10:07 AM

I find it amusing that I have lived in DC for seven years, have a license, vote, pay taxes and everything. never once been called to jury duty. very odd, I know people who are called yearly, and I am 0 for 7. whatever.

Posted by: northzax | December 18, 2006 2:44 PM

Northzax, you just blew it. I lived in DC for five years, and commented to a friend who was griping about being called for jury duty that I had NEVER received a summons. And, that same day, I got home to find a summons, natch!! And, now they keep on coming!! Fisher, I say you should go in April. To heck with trying to call and get it figured out. THAT might be more work than just showing up!

Posted by: Logan Circle | December 19, 2006 11:13 AM

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