GEORGETOWN — An unfortunate set of circumstances is being blamed for an application for a criminal complaint against a late Georgetown man for failing to appear for jury duty a few months before his death in 2006.
But according to an official with the jury commissioner's office, it's not likely the state will proceed with serving a criminal complaint against and arraigning a man who died five years ago.
State Deputy Jury Commissioner John Cavanaugh said Friday that before a criminal complaint is issued for the late Michael Wylie, his office will take action.
"Given what we now know, we will make an attempt to independently obtain documentation to confirm his death from the (Georgetown) town clerk before the hearing and stop that process," Cavanaugh said. "But this could have been settled if someone in his family had faxed us a copy of his death certificate years ago."
Cavanaugh said that according to state law, the jury commission can't take verbal notice over the phone to excuse individuals from jury duty due to illness or death. The law requires written documentation.
But Steve Schubert, the fiance of Wylie's widow, Cindy, said given advances in technology, it's time for the state to modernize its procedures.
"In this electronic age, there has to be a simpler way to confirm someone's dead than requiring their families to pay for and send in death certificates," Schubert said. "I'm a forensic accountant. They could have done a viral search and come up with his death certificate online."
Cavanagugh said the saga began in 2006 when Wylie was issued a notice to serve on jury duty. At the time, however, Wylie was in hospice care suffering with terminal cancer.
"According to the files, we got a telephone call that said (Wylie) had a medical condition that prevented him from serving," Cavanaugh said. "But we required a doctor's letter, and we never received one."
Wylie passed away a few months after the jury duty notice was sent. Since then, the commission has regularly sent letters to Michael Wylie at his last address in Georgetown concerning his failure to report for duty, Cavanugh said. Oddly, if his widow had moved from their home, the process would have ended, he said.
"The commission sends out all its notices by first-class mail," Cavanaugh said. "If the notice can't be delivered (because the party doesn't live there anymore), the post office returns it to us.
"Any return from the post office stops the process. It's actually unfortunate that his wife still lives at the same address they lived at when he was alive."
Over the years, the jury commissioner's office was notified by Cindy Wylie and Schubert that Michael Wylie was deceased. Schubert said. But that wasn't enough to satisfy the letter of the law, which requires a copy of the death certificate, he said.
"We didn't want to spend the time to drive up to Danvers, where Michael died, and pay $35 to get a certified copy of his death certificate," Schubert said. "Then pay another $5.80 to send it to them certified mail to make sure they get it."
Last week, the jury commission made another attempt to get Michael Wylie's attention concerning his missed jury appearance. An application for criminal complaint against Michael Wylie was delivered to his former home. The criminal application notice carried a court hearing date set for July in Salem, obviously a date Michael Wylie won't be able to make.
"When I called Salem court about the situation, the woman there said, 'Oh my God, this is the fourth call we've had like this today,'" Schubert said.
Cavanaugh agreed the incident isn't an isolated one, saying it happens with some frequency given prospective jurors do die right before or after being sent jury notices. Usually, things get cleared up before the commission gets to the point of issuing criminal complaints or attempts to arraign the dead, he said. But sometimes situations like the one involving Michael Wylie have occurred, he said.
Schubert said he and Cindy Wylie hope by bringing her late husband's situation to light, it might lead to some changes in the system.
"For years, the commission has been sending us letters about this, and there's the cost of postage and labor," Schubert said. "Now, they've turned it over to the court system, which is flooded already, and there'll be more labor and more costs. It's the point of wasteful spending. They have to be able to link to other (databases), like the (state) Department of Revenue, which would know he's dead. There has to be a better way."