The Missouri General Assembly now controls the question of whether two nursing mothers will be held in contempt for failing to meet their Jackson County jury service obligations.
A Jackson County judge said Thursday he would delay fining the women $500 each until the end of the legislative session in the spring. But should lawmakers not approve a measure that specifically exempts breastfeeding moms from jury service, Presiding Judge Marco Roldan said he would impose the fines.
One of the women, Laura Trickle of Lee’s Summit, said she was grateful for the judge’s decision, which he announced at her contempt hearing Thursday.
“The judge stated he is going to follow the law, which is what he should do,” Trickle said. “It’s the law that needs changed.”
Through a spokeswoman, Roldan announced that he had refunded a $500 fine paid Wednesday by a second Jackson County woman and gave her the same opportunity for a legislative reprieve.
Roldan set June 6 hearings for the women to review their cases and assess any legislative changes.
Twelve states, including Kansas, have laws exempting nursing mothers from jury service.
Earlier this year, Trickle obtained a six-month postponement of jury duty while awaiting the birth of a child. But she was not prepared to serve on a jury in September, when she was called after receiving another postponement of about two weeks.
Trickle continues to breastfeed her 7-month-old son, Axel, who waited outside the courtroom in his father’s arms during the hearing.
Explaining his ruling, Roldan said Trickle should have appeared for jury service with a caregiver for the child and then made her hardship case to a judge. Given the importance of jurors in the legal system, judges are sensitive to the well-being of jurors, Roldan said.
“I’ve been a judge for 14 years and have seen a lot of hardships,” Roldan said. “Judges take those hardships seriously.”
Trickle said she wants to meet her civic obligations, but now isn’t the time.
“Please take into account the hardships we face,” she said after the hearing. “It’s a timing issue for me. I just can’t do it now.”
The judge expressed no opinion as to whether the General Assembly should exempt nursing mothers from jury service, only that he wanted to give legislators the opportunity to act before taking final action on cases that have received nationwide attention.
After the hearing, State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph physician, said at a chilly rally in front of the courthouse that he plans to reintroduce legislation in the upcoming session to provide the jury service exemption for breastfeeding mothers.
Such a provision would encourage more mothers to nurse their babies, who, generally, would then be healthier and less prone to some health problems, he said.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Schaaf said. “If you were in court trying to get some justice, would you want a breastfeeding mother on the jury?”
Schaaf, who met Trickle at the rally for the first time, said the judge’s decision would bring more attention to the question. He invited Trickle to become the face of the issue for lawmakers.
“We’ll have you come down to Jeff City to testify,” Schaaf said. “Would you like that?”
“Oh yes,” she replied.
“It shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide when you decide to stop breastfeeding,” Schaaf said.
About 50 mothers and children turned up for the rally to support changes in Missouri law to allow women greater freedom to nurse their children in public.
“How many more women, babies and families will have to suffer stress until the laws change?” asked rally organizer Rachel Daniels.