Jolting jury letter guilty of mistake

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COEUR d'ALENE — When Tami Martinez opened her mail on Thursday, she had a "body jolt and heart-pounding confusion."

The Kootenai County resident received letter from Jury Commissioner Pete Barnes stating that she failed to return a jury questionnaire that was sent to her in March.

Further non-compliance, the letter warned, would result in a misdemeanor.

"My heart started racing because I sent back my questionnaire," Martinez said.

Martinez's concerns were alleviated as soon as she called the number on the letter and heard a message saying the notices had been sent in error.

It turns out that 2,500 such letters of "non-compliance" were sent to residents who were in good standing with the jury commissioner.

"My signature is on the form, so I've been answering more than 200 emails a day," Barnes said. "I was also receiving more than 200 phone calls a day, so I finally had to put out the voice message (about the mistake)."

Barnes accepts responsibility for the blunder. He said it was a combination of human and computer error.

"The wrong codes were punched in — that can cause things to go haywire. It wasn't checked closely enough and, boom, this happens," he told The Press. "This has never happened, and I guarantee that it will never happen again. I'm ultimately the person responsible for everything that comes out of this office.

"It's an unfortunate event. I feel bad that I let this happen to jurors in good standing."

Barnes, who has worked for Kootenai County for 24 years — including the past 15 years as jury commissioner — said the mistake cost the county $1,100 in mailing expenses.

He said most of the people who received the letter sent out on July 3 have been understanding. Some have been irate. Regardless of the reaction, all are justified, Barnes said.

"The ones who are upset have every right to be upset, especially after they received a nastygram in the mail," he said.

Barnes said there are safeguards in place to prevent such mistakes from happening, but more, including improved oversight from him, have been added since the blunder.

"I should have been more attentive to what was happening, and that didn't happen," he said. "I will take a more active role in reviewing the reports."

Barnes said the phone calls and email messages are cooling down each day, but some continue to trickle in.

"Most people have received the letter now and tried to contact me," he said.

Barnes said that if anyone received a noncompliance letter from him in the past week, they should disregard it. He said the next batch of such letters — the legitimate ones — are slated to be mailed on Aug. 16.

Martinez said it's too bad the situation happened to such a nice guy.

"What a bummer for Pete," she said.

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