Laura Trickle doesn’t want to interrupt her son’s breastfeeding.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
Jackson County Presiding Judge Marco Roldan wants her to fulfill her civic obligation and serve jury duty.
Trickle says she’s no criminal — “I’ve never even had a speeding ticket” — but those who skip jury duty can be found in contempt of court, ordered to pay a fine of up to $500 and maybe even be arrested.
Trickle, of Lee’s Summit, will face the judge Thursday at a hearing at the Jackson County Courthouse downtown.
She wouldn’t have the court date if she lived in Prairie Village or Bonner Springs; breastfeeding women in Kansas are exempted from jury duty, as they are in 11 other states. And legislation introduced by a St. Joseph physician and state senator would exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty across Missouri.
But for now, Trickle said, county officials don’t appreciate the challenges breastfeeding mothers face. Roldan, meanwhile, says he considers all personal issues faced by potential jurors, breastfeeding among them.
“I am very protective of our jurors,” said Roldan. “They are the foundation of our system.”
A court order, delivered to Trickle’s home by a courteous law enforcement officer (“He said, ‘Good luck!’”) details her case.
On Jan. 23, responding to a jury duty notice, she applied for and received a postponement because she was pregnant. She delivered son Axel in March.
On Aug. 9, after receiving another summons, Trickle informed court officials she was breastfeeding.
But she soon received notice that she must report to court as well as arrange for child care or bring somebody with her who could care for the child during jury selection.
On Sept. 3, she “willfully and contemptuously appeared for jury service with her child and no one to care for the child,” according to the court order that soon arrived.
Roldan, while declining to discuss Trickle’s specific case, said breastfeeding Jackson County mothers have two options.
One is to use occasional breaks during jury service to use a private room to pump milk and store it, feeding it to their children later.
“Axel doesn’t take a bottle,” Trickle said.
The second option is to bring a caregiver to the courthouse to watch the child during trial proceedings and then take the child to a private room to breastfeed.
But she has no child care options, Trickle said. She stays at home while Axel’s father works.
About 1,000 potential jurors report downtown every month, Roldan said. But the number of judges needing juries varies, and sometimes fewer jurors may be assigned to cases.
“About 50 percent are not even going to go upstairs to a case,” Roldan said.
Still, he added, he will seek to keep potential jurors available. If the jurors are assigned to individual cases, the judges — perhaps facing a one-day trial or a five-day trial — will be able to make more informed decisions as to whether a juror should be excused.
Missouri statutes allow for exemptions when a juror would face “an undue or extreme physical or financial hardship,” and Roldan said he has exercised that discretion. On some occasions as a trial judge, he said, he has excused potential jurors who just had a death in the family, or teachers who were scheduled to give midterm exams.
While keeping some jurors, he often has sought to accommodate their needs, he said. One juror who told Roldan he could not sit for extended periods received a seat in the back row of the jury box, where he was free to stand occasionally, even during testimony.
Some health advocates appreciate the accommodations the court makes.
“Providing a room for mothers to breastfeed or pump is good, and we very much encourage that,” said Anne Biswell of the Mother & Child Health Coalition, which promotes wellness in the Kansas City area.
But Biswell also has been tracking legislation, to be reintroduced in the next session, that would exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty in Missouri.
Such an exemption would help encourage more Missouri mothers to breastfeed, said state Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph.
“Babies who are breastfed generally are healthier, are less likely to have certain health problems and will cost the state less resources,” said Schaaf, a physician.
“Jury duty is a roadblock to that.”
Changing jury duty law may not be easily accomplished, said Nikki Simmons, a Stockton, Mo., spokeswoman for La Leche League, an international organization that promotes breastfeeding.
Lawmakers considering exempting breastfeeding mothers may also have to consider the needs of other stakeholder groups, such as those who care for the elderly or infirm, said Simmons, who spent several years advising Jefferson City lawmakers on breastfeeding issues.
Meanwhile, breastfeeding moms who received a jury duty notice should not overreact, she said.
“A lot of women immediately go into defensive mode,” Simmons said.
“Whenever mothers call the La Leche League, our first question is, ‘Did you answer the summons?’ Sometimes what new moms forget is that sometimes all it takes is going and having a gentle conversation with a gatekeeper, who is often a secretary.”
But if they end up facing a judge, emotion often doesn’t work, Simmons added.
“What judges want to hear are solid reasons. If you are the sole caregiver, that is a legitimate reason most courts recognize.”
And, she added, lawyers selecting jurors will be alert to any issues candidates may have.
“No lawyer wants a juror who will not have their head in the game,” Simmons said.
Trickle is one of two breastfeeding Jackson County women who recently have faced possible penalties for not serving jury duty. It’s not that she isn’t willing, she said.
“The issue is the timing,” she said. “I just can’t do it right now.”
To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.