South Dakota Hall of Shame

(Last updated December 14, 2005)

If you have been mistreated by the Courts in this way, or if you know of others that have, Please click on the letter to e-mail me and share your story!

South Dakota

Jennifer Arehart, a stay-at-home mother of 3 small children, was selected for jury duty by the Deadwood Circuit Court in Lawrence County, South Dakota.  Jennifer was 7 months pregnant with her 3rd child when she was selected for a 6-month jury duty term beginning in July 2005.  She immediately called the court and wrote a letter explaining her circumstances — she was pregnant and was planning to exclusively breastfeed her new baby.  The court refused to excuse Jennifer!!  She sent another letter along with her jury questionnaire.  Again, the court did not excuse Jennifer.  Instead, they told her they would “work with her” and that she was allowed 6 weeks off after the baby was born.  By that time, she was told, she would only have 3 months left of her term and that she would not have a problem.

 

On November 30, 2005, Jennifer’s jury panel was selected to report.  She brought her 3-month-old baby with her because she was breastfeeding.

When the judge finished, he thanked everyone for their time, but then publicly humiliated Jennifer by saying, “Those of you who brought your babies with you today…  next time you find someone to watch him (Jennifer’s baby) or I will!”   In tears, Jennifer explained to the judge that she was exclusively breastfeeding, her baby would not take a bottle, and she could not be away from him for more than 2 hours at a time. 
The judge did not care.  He excused Jennifer for a week so she could “find a daycare” for her son. 

 

Jennifer tried to get the courts to postpone her jury service until she was done breastfeeding, assuring the court that she was not trying to “get out” of serving.  She had her pediatrician send the judge a note regarding her baby’s need to breastfeed, but the judge did not acknowledge it.  His stance was that there were other ways to feed a baby, he didn’t care how it was done so long as Jennifer was there and the baby was not. 

 

Jennifer asked for help from fellow members of a mothers group.  Several of the mothers contacted the Governor of South Dakota and asked him to intervene on Jennifer’s behalf.  The Governor’s Office called Jennifer and told her that the Governor and the Chief Justice discussed her problem and although they couldn’t tell the judge what to do, they did call him and “strongly suggested” that he release Jennifer from jury duty at this time.  The judge wouldn’t back down and told the Governor’s Office that he would try” to only put Jennifer on 1-2 day trials, which still didn’t address the fact that she could not be away from her son for more than 2 hours at a time.

 

In response to Jennifer’s jury duty situation, the Governor’s Office has started to put some legislation together to protect breastfeeding moms (and may broaden it to include sole care providers) from being forced serve on a jury.

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