Cities Weigh Paying Low-Income Jurors More to Increase Diversity

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Photo by Robert Couse Baker via Flickr

San Francisco is planning a “first of its kind” program to provide extra compensation for low-income jurors. Under the proposal, per diem rates for some jurors will increase from $15 to $100 with the goal of establishing juries more reflective of San Francisco’s diverse communities, according to the city’s Treasurer.

“The ‘Be the Jury’ pilot program will make the civic duty of serving on a jury accessible to all San Franciscans, regardless of the size of their wallet,” San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros said in a statement.

“The nominal juror compensation provided under current law places a significant financial burden that prevents too many low-income people from serving on a jury.”

The proposal makes San Francisco the latest city to contemplate expanding the diversity of its jury pool by including more low-income members.

Under the San Francisco proposal, jurors are eligible for the increased pay if their household income is less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income and if they meet one of the following criteria:

      • Their employer doesn’t compensate for jury service;
      • Their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration for jury service;
      • They are self-employed; and
      • They are unemployed.

The Treasurer’s statement points out that “Because income inequality is strongly correlated with race and ethnicity and juries have become less racially diverse due to an inability to participate and tend to be composed of people who can afford to serve unpaid or who have employers who will pay them while they are serving.”

According to the American Bar Association (ABA),  ensuring jury diversity may require a “holistic approach” to make jury duty more appealing to everyone and then focus additional effort that target minority populations.

The ABA said that “increasing juror pay can serve a dual role by increasing general juror turnout and encouraging individuals form lower socioeconomic backgrounds to appear by decreasing the opportunity costs of associated with jury service.”

This lack of diversity can deny a defendant access to constitutionally guaranteed protections, like the right to an impartial jury as the defendant won’t be surrounded by a jury representative of their community, says the News Tribune.

San Francisco isn’t the only place dealing with a lack of diversity in their juries due to the low pay that jury duty provides.

Many other cities and counties are trying to increase jury duty pay.

Some counties in Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, and Tennessee pay $10; in Georgia, some pay $5, says The Indy.

In Connecticut, employers are required to pay jurors for their first five days served, while Massachusetts requites the same for three days. Both states compensate jurors $50 daily thereafter and have funding available for unemployed jurors.

In Rhode Island, juror compensation stands at a flat rate of $15 per day, regardless of how long or in which court one serves. There are also no funds available and employers are not obligated to pay employees while they serve on a jury, says The Indy.

Rhode Island Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, who represents Central Falls, the smallest and poorest city in the state, knew that many of her constituents were not in a financial position to take off from their jobs periodically for a six-month period to be only compensated with $15 a day.

Crowley has been continuously working to try and increase juror compensation.

She, along with a handful of elected officials in the Rhode Island General Assembly petitioned for an increase in juror compensation, introducing legislation on the issues, but jurors have not received a pay increase.

She has also tried four times to pass legislation to raise compensation to $25-$35. While these bills would reach the house, it would never pass the House Finance Committee, reports The Indy.

Crowley knows that an increase in juror pay may not resolve all the inequalities in the legal system but believes that improving compensation will give defendants “a little more of a chance” of being brought in front of a jury they will feel represented with. She also hopes this raise will gradually help ease the burden for those experiencing financial hardships who want to serve, resulting in an increase of diversity in jury pools.

In Harris County, TX., Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess is working to improve appearance rates and diversity of those who show up through a submitted proposal that will increase juror perks concerning free parking and lunch, says the Houston Press.

While these perks do make jury duty more appealing, the district clerk’s office is still trying to push an increase of juror pay, hoping that this pay pump will help convince more Harris County residents to show up for jury duty, particularly Black and Hispanic residents who are currently underrepresented on county juries.

Burgess’ most recent proposal to increase day one juror pay from $6 to $50 and to raise payment on subsequent days from $40 to $80 was denied by Commissioners Court in late March.

This was due to the commissioners and Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo citing a lack of available data to support the belief that increasing pay will lead to higher appearance rates.

In Seattle University study, which surveyed people who responded to jury duty across the state found people of color were underrepresented in Washington Jury pools, reported the News Tribune.

Lem Howell, a Washington lawyer who did not have many people of color on his jury panels and were really seated as jurors to hear his cases, says that he thinks getting more people in the door is “absolutely” part of the answer to make juries more diverse.

He brings up juror pay, which is generally $10 a day in Washington, which he said is a barrier for many.

“They should pay proper compensation for jurors. I know it will dent the budget, but I think they’ve got to find a method for increasing the compensation for prospective jurors,” Howell says.

In order to increase the diversity of these juries across the country, there needs to be an increase in pay to get those from low economic background to participate without putting their wellbeing in jeopardy.

Not everyone can afford to miss a day of work as they support themselves, along with their families.

Assembly member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1452, says “Economic hardship shouldn’t deter people from serving on juries. On top of lost wages, the $15 per day that jurors are paid barely covers their transportation and meal expenses.”

Through the “Be the Jury” pilot program, this will be the first step in creating a jury that is truly representative of San Francisco’s diversity.

Ting concludes saying “Higher compensation for jury duty will help ensure that our jury pools are more reflective of the communities they are serving. This legislation helps put us on a path to more diverse and inclusive juries.”

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