Budgeting For Murder

For the record, I have never served on a jury.  The one time I was called, I was exempted by 10 U.S.C. § 982 and Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5822.2.  I am always interested, however, in who gets selected to serve on juries, especially as it seems like a disproportionate number of my coworkers (who are primarily civilian employees of the federal government) are chosen.

A few days ago, I learned that a coworker had been selected as a juror for a murder trial.  This person is at the top of the General Schedule Pay Scale, and therefore likely earns around $120,000 per year.  This interested me because, as a supervisor for personnel who work on my program, part of this person’s salary normally comes out of my budget.  My immediate concerns for my program’s budget were allayed, however, since apparently jurors are paid “court leave,” but it still appears that the federal government is picking up a substantial portion of the tab for this particular jury.

Of the twelve primary and three alternate jurors selected, my coworker reported that four (including him) are from our office.  Two are employees of the state of California.  One is a retired military officer.  Three are, in his words, “little old ladies,” self-described retirees, likely receiving Social Security and perhaps additional retirement income.  He did not have any information on the other five jurors.  He reported that during the selection process many small business owners and hourly workers were dismissed because of the impact a long trial would have on their ability to earn a living.  In other words, without the willingness of the federal (and to a lesser extent state) government to pay their employees for court leave, the state of California would not be able to seat juries for trials expected to last more than a few days.

California currently compensates jurors just fifteen dollars per day, and only after the first day:

California pays jurors $15 every day starting on the second day of service, except employees of governmental entities who receive full pay and benefits from their employers while on jury service. All jurors receive at least 34 cents for each mile they travel to court. The mileage payment, only for one-way travel, also starts on the second day. Jurors also have the option to waive the mileage and instead receive transit passes for each day they serve.

In order for California to approximate the meager $30,000 mean per capita income, they would have to compensate jurors $120 per day (eight times the current rate) starting on the first day of jury duty (this assumes a 50-week work year and a 5-day work week:  50 x 5 x $120 = $30,000).  The only way California (and other states) would ever consider doing this is if the federal government were to stop subsidizing juries by paying for court leave.

This problem is neither new nor unique to California.  In 1997, the Seattle Times reported a similar problem:

When a handful of her employees received jury-duty notices, Edie Hilliard was happy to let them serve and collect their full salary at the same time.

 

Jury duty is a civic responsibility, and every citizen should respond to the call of the court, Hilliard reasoned. Telling her employees to survive on the $10-a-day jury stipend seemed mean-spirited.

 

But about three years ago, Hilliard said, things started to get out of hand.

 

Since then, half of the 43 employees at her company, Broadcast Programming, have been summoned, nine of them more than once. In mid-June, one employee was serving on a jury when two others received summons.

 

Broadcast Programming workers have spent 49 days sitting in the jury box during the past three years.

 

“It just seems extraordinary that we’ve received so many,” said Hilliard, president of Broadcast Programming, a Seattle-based company that sells programs to radio stations.

 

Hilliard isn’t the only employer questioning how jurors are selected. Plenty of others protest the number of summonses issued to their workers and wonder if they are being unfairly burdened by the district, municipal and federal courts.

Unfortunately, their proposed “solution” was to mandate that all businesses pay employees for jury duty, which ignores the fact that many people (including domestic workers) are self-employed.

Until states actually start budgeting for jurors as if they were employees, lengthy trials, especially murder trials, will continue to have juries made up primarily of federal and state employees and little old ladies.

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