Conversation with … Heather Harms, Grand County jury commissioner
April 7, 2008
Sooner or later, it seems that just about every citizen in Grand County will be having some contact with one person because of her job. Her name is Heather Harms, jury commissioner and clerk of court at the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs.
In her role as jury commissioner, Harms and her staff at the Combined Court Office make the requests that result in the jury summons sent through the mail to county residents.
The other contact that Harms may have with both residents and visitors is in her role as the clerk of court. If you are involved in any court proceedings from traffic misdemeanors to felony charges, divorce proceedings, and civil litigation, it is all handled by Harms and the Combined Court Office’s staff.
What’s your job like to be the jury commissioner?
“People get those invitations through the mail from me to be on a jury. But please don’t hate me. (She laughs.)
“I know it’s irritating to get a jury summons because it requires a person to take off work and it disrupts their usual routine. But once they get here at the courthouse and go through the jury selection procedure, I think most leave here feeling good about the experience.
“One of my favorite sayings about jury duty is that it is a right and a privilege, but also a responsibility of citizenship.”
How are people selected to receive a jury summons?
“Our jury pool comes from lists of driver’s licenses, voter registrations and are cross-referenced with state tax returns.
“From those lists, selection is completely random. It’s done through computers. I input into the computer that I need 90 prospective jurors on a certain date. The pool of jurors is put together and run through a statewide computer system and it’s then printed out.
“The process is really random. My husband says he gets them all the time while there are people I know who say they haven’t gotten a jury summons in years. It’s just the luck of the draw.
“When you show up on the day of your jury summons, your information is entered. If you’re not selected as a juror or the trial is called off, you shouldn’t get another summons that calendar year. It’s rare, but there have been people who received a jury summons for December of one calendar and then got another summons in January for the next calendar year.”
“People often call our office to tell us they no longer live in Grand County and to ask us to take them off the jury lists so that they won’t continue to get summons from Grand County, but we have to tell them that we do not have the ability to change anyone’s information. When they move to another county or state, it’s their responsibility to change their own information through motor vehicle registration, voter registration and other identification information.”
If someone gets a jury summons, can they get out of it?
“Everyone is allowed one personal excuse per year. You just need to call the Combined Court Office and explain the circumstances. You will be placed back in that year’s juror pool and you may get another summons that calendar year.
“If you get a second summons and you need to be excused a second time, you will have to put your reasons in writing and submit it to the judge.
“All our judges, and especially our Chief Judge Michael O’Hara of the 14th Judicial District, expect prospective jurors to show up. They are not very lenient with those who repeatedly try to get out of juror duty without good reasons. They expect jurors to do their civic duty.”
What are your duties as clerk of court?
“This is my fifth year as clerk of court. It’s my job to supervise the Combined Court Office, which has a staff of seven judicial assistants, one collections investigator and one bailiff.
“It is the job of the staff and myself to keep track of all the cases for both county and district courts and the decisions by the judges. My staff members have to be very detail-oriented because the decisions handed down by the judges affect people’s lives. In addition, we have to be in contact with Sheriff’s Office and police departments, Social Services, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the prison system and probation departments.
“We have to enter warrants, protection orders and sentences so that the jail knows how long a defendant has to serve. Overall, our job is to maintain the integrity of these court records, which means that everything that happened in a case from start to finish has to be in its file.”
In addition to court records, what other tasks do you and your staff handle on a regular basis?
“We do a lot of customer assistance. Most people who come to court are not happy to be there and it can be a depressing atmosphere. Sometimes they take out their frustrations on us, which is why it is so important for my staff to have people skills.
“We try to be as pleasant as possible because we know many of these people are unhappy and frustrated. But people have got to understand that the staff members of the Combined Court Office are not attorneys, and we are not qualified to give legal advice. We do our best to help them, but we cannot advise them on their legal matters.
“At the Grand County Courthouse, we do have attorneys who volunteer their time on Wednesdays to talk with the public. People can set up an appointment with them and get answers to their questions that we at the Combined Court Office can’t give. It’s certainly an option for people to take advantage of.
What future developments are going to affect your office?
“Electronic filing of court orders is the wave of the future. Instead of taking paper over the counter, we’ll be receiving pleadings electronically that can be pulled up on computers. Judges will even be able to issue orders over a computer. It’s a little scary for judges and attorneys that have been practicing for a while, but it’s going very smoothly here. Judge O’Hara is especially technology-oriented and wants to move us into the computer age.
“Another important development is the opening of the Grand County Justice Center later this summer. It’s going to increase security here and will be a great improvement. We are very thankful and appreciative to the Grand County Commissioners and the county for providing it to us.”
Do you personally like your job?
“I really do like it, but when I was growing up here in Grand County, I never thought I’d end up in the legal field. I went through the East Grand schools and graduated from Middle Park High, and then went to CSU to study to become a veterinarian. I ended up in New Mexico, but I came home because I missed the snow.
“The one thing about my job that keeps it interesting is that it’s always changing and always a challenge.”