October 12, 2012

Prank about jury duty has some up in arms

An apparent practical joke is causing concern for employees in the Merced County Superior Court clerk's office, and the victims of the prank aren't finding it very funny.

Linda Romero-Soles, CEO of the superior court, said the clerk's office has gotten calls and visits from residents who were told by friends that their names were in the classifieds section of the Merced Sun-Star because they missed jury duty.

In many instances, the duped parties were given a phone number to call, which brought them to a recording of a man purportedly with the "National Justice Center." The recording told them that because they missed a court date, they could either pay a $500 fine or serve a 30-day prison sentence. It isn't until the end of the recording that the caller is informed that it's a joke.

In one instance, Romero-Soles said the victim was told by a close friend to go to the courthouse because there was a fine placed on her and her name was in the Sun-Star.

But when staff checked the woman's name, there was no record of her missing jury duty. Searches of the Sun-Star classifieds and legal advertisements didn't show any related content, either.

"She was really nervous," Romero-Soles said, adding that the situation can create a problem if people are driving long distances -- especially with high gas prices -- simply because of a prank.

Though the court has only seen a few instances where people have fallen victim to the hoax, officials are hoping it doesn't spread.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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