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Mobtown Beat

Civil Slight

Jury commissioner asks potential juror with a service dog to prove his disability

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 9/30/2009

On Sept. 14, Ned Humphrey loaded his dog Haku into his car, drove downtown, and reported in for jury duty. Humphrey, a Charles Village resident, has worked with Haku, a 6-year-old Korean jindo, as his medical service dog since 2003. To date, Humphrey says, he's taken Haku everywhere--they've traveled all over the country and even overseas, and he says that only a motel owner has ever given him trouble over the dog. Still, Humphrey says that when he got his summons, he called the Jury Commissioner's office to let them know he'd be happy to come, but would bring his service dog with him.

Humphrey says that Jury Commissioner Nancy Dennis told him that no one had ever made such a request before, and that if he wanted to bring Haku, he would need to bring a doctor's letter explaining his disability and proving the need for the dog.

This is where things get sticky--according to the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and public officials are not permitted to deny service to people who use service dogs to assist them. Further, service dogs and other assistance animals do not need to be certified as such, and it is not permissible to require that disabled individuals prove their disability or bring documentation proving the animal serves a legitimate purpose unless it is a security risk. According to Kenneth Shiotani, senior staff attorney for the National Disability Rights Network, the most the law allows is for someone to ask if a dog is a service dog and what services it may perform.

He says ignorance of that law is "all too common," and people with service animals frequently face these kinds of problems. It's particularly frustrating when government officials are not familiar with the law, he says. "The government worker is trained, they have civil rights obligations, and they should know this," Shiotani says.

Still, Humphrey says he wanted to be accommodating, so he agreed to bring a doctor's letter. "They really can't ask for that, I don't care if you're a jury commissioner or a restaurateur," he says. "But I told her that even though I was not required to do so, I would anyway as a courtesy."

On the morning he was supposed to serve, Humphrey says he got downtown and realized he forgot to bring the letter. Dennis herself asked to see it, and when he was unable produce it, he says he was asked to sit in the jurors' room and wait. More than an hour later, he says, Dennis called him out into the hall, where a Baltimore City sheriff stood. She told him that without any documentation of his condition, he would have to leave and serve at a different date--with the letter or without the dog. Humphrey requested the $15 compensation paid to individuals who serve, since he did show up, but he was turned down because he had not served. He also asked for $8 to cover the cost of parking in a garage and was denied that as well.

When he got home, Humphrey mulled over the incident and decided to call Dennis. "I said, 'I just want to let you know that I'm still willing and eager to serve on the jury, but I will not come without my dog and I will not come with a doctor's letter,'" Humphrey recalls. "'Your chance for seeing a letter from my doctor is passed.' She said, 'In that case you'll be hearing from the court.' And that sounded kind of ominous."

Humphrey then wrote a letter that he delivered to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District), the ADA, his state senator, and his state representative, letting them know that he thinks that Dennis' actions violated the ADA and that he's now considering filing a complaint.

"The whole experience made me feel humiliated and discriminated against," Humphrey wrote. "My service dog is clearly designated as such by the vest he wears. It was as if Ms. Dennis was implying that I would go through all the trouble of getting a service dog vest for my dog just to pull the wool over the court's eyes."

When City Paper contacted Clarke, Jury Commissioner Dennis called in on the other line, though Dennis did not return multiple phone calls for comment. Clarke says she feels sympathetic to Humphrey, but that the matter is not really one for her or the City Council to intervene in. "The jury commissioner advised him to write to the judge," Clarke says. "And I believe Ned has done that. I think this is beyond the jury commissioner to determine, this is for them to work out in the Circuit Court. She's referring him to the court."

Clarke says because Humphrey is a constituent, she wants to help and doesn't want to see him left "high and dry," so her office offered to pay him the $15 jurors' compensation to make up for the time he lost traveling and parking downtown. Beyond that, she says, she thinks the matter has to go before a judge.

In his letter, Humphrey points out that for several years he was too sick to serve on a jury and had to be excused. But now that he is able to serve, he's thrown out. "I find it reprehensible that people who want to get out of jury duty use all kinds of excuses to do so," he writes. "But when someone with a request for minimum accommodation and respect comes along and is eager to serve, they are rejected for reasons that the ADA prohibits."

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