Never easy to assemble a trial jury on Shelter Island

As the trial of David Bartilucci approaches, the issue of assembling a jury on an Island this small has risen to the spotlight.

Raising concerns at a recent Town Board meeting, Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said it’s never easy coming up with a jury of Island residents.

“It’s tough to get a jury here,” he told the board. “It’s all four degrees of separation.”

That’s why it’s not uncommon for off-Islanders to get a letter in the mail calling them to jury duty here.

It’s all in the numbers, said Justice Court clerk Beverly Pelletier.

According to 2010 census figures, Shelter Island has a population of just under 2,400 residents.

Jury trials are rare on the Island — about once every two or three years — according to Judge Mary Faith Westervelt. But when one is scheduled, there are just too few people on the Island to comprise a jury pool, Ms. Pelletier said.

Some Shelter Island residents are elderly with health problems that prohibit them from serving, she said. Others are snowbirds, off to warmer climes in the winter. Another group is second-home owners who have chosen to list the Island as their main residence, Ms. Pelletier said.

Then there’s the issue of familiarity. On an island with such a small population, it’s “very, very hard” to find jurors who don’t know people connected with the case, Judge Westervelt said. That’s why the court also calls people from the North Fork.

For the upcoming trial of Mr. Bartilucci, charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and obstructing breathing of another individual, the court has called 76 people, mostly from the North Fork. Seven will be selected who can serve, six as jurors and one as an alternate, the judge said. The case was scheduled for trial this month but has been delayed, the judge said.

People who live in Southold, Greenport, East Marion or Orient shouldn’t be surprised to get a notice to report for jury duty on Shelter Island. Just as they would be credited for jury service if they were called to the Riverhead or Central Islip courthouses, the same credit is given to those who serve in Shelter Island court.

There’s pluses and minuses when serving on an Island jury. One advantage is that the few jury trials that do occur are often one-day events, Ms. Pelletier said.

The drawback? North Fork jurors have to pay the $15 round trip ferry fare out of their own pocket.

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