A Missouri judge decided to postpone a contempt ruling on a breastfeeding juror who brought her baby to jury duty qualificiation, giving the legislature time to change the law.
The breastfeeding mom who brought her baby with her to jury duty will have to wait a year to determine whether she will face a contempt of court charge. The judge in the case says he will put the case on hold for a year to see whether Missouri lawmakers will adjust the law to allow judges to exempt breastfeeding moms from jury duty. I mentioned the bizarre case last week, after the mom told a judge that her baby would not take a bottle, and, as she had no daycare, bringing the baby with her was her only practical option. She hoped that by doing so, she would receive an exemption until the baby was old enough to no longer require breastfeeding.
The clerk of court said she had already been granted at least one exemption and the judge apparently felt that should have been enough. He initially charged her with contempt of court, which could have carried a fine of up to $500.
This past week, the judge decided to refund the $500 against a different mom who’d previously faced such a ruling. For this mom, he says he’ll give state lawmakers 12 months to add breastfeeding as a valid exemption to the law. But if they fail to add the exemption, he will re-impose the refunded $500 fine and rule in the latest case.
While I applaud the judge for doing what’s clearly the right thing in not penalizing a mom who needs to be able to take care of her child, something seems a little odd to me here: is the current law so strict that a judge can’t interpret it to allow a breastfeeding mom to be excused from jury duty to begin with? Surely there is latitude when it comes to deciding what “financial hardship” is and I can’t imagine that a judge wouldn’t have room to interpret how work commitments of potential jurors could negatively impact them.
If he’s got the ability to make judgements on a case-by-case basis in those other, common issues, why even have the argument here?
A spokesperson for a group that promotes breastfeeding told the Kansas City Star there’s an even better reason to allow breastfeeding moms to postpone jury duty:
“No lawyer wants a juror who will not have their head in the game.”
The potential for that kind of distraction and the effect it could have on a fair trial ought to also be a valid reason for exempting a breastfeeding mom, regardless of how specifically the law gets about which situations are valid.
I get that he’s trying to compel legislators to adjust the law; but why put a mom, as The Guardian describes it, “in limbo” while doing so? I think not charging a mom who needs to breastfeed a seven-month-old baby with contempt of court is unquestionably the right thing to do.
It’s a shame she must worry for those 12 months whether she’ll have to come up with $500 if lawmakers in Missouri can’t accomplish a goal any better than lawmakers in the nation’s capital. We can only hope Missouri’s legislators are more efficient.
Can you think of other situations besides breastfeeding that should be “no brainers” in terms of jury duty exemptions? Do you think every single one of them should specifically have to be listed in the law?