A “civic duty” shouldn’t be a financial crippler.
At least, that’s how I wanted to start this piece, especially after my first experience as a part of a jury pool.
After my first time serving jury duty (and in Downtown Los Angeles, no less), I could easily see where all the notoriety came from. With the exception of the 15-minute break and the hour and a half lunch, I was never even called for consideration of a jury, and felt I had wasted a day that could have otherwise been productive.
A day that could have been spent working on a story that had been assigned to me earlier in the morning. Yet somehow, though my work may have been slightly postponed due to my “fulfilling my duty to society,” I knew I was likely one of the luckier ones in the handful of potential jurors who spent their day twiddling their thumbs waiting for a call that never came. My work had merely been set back by a day or so, and would have little to no effect on my paycheck, ultimately.
And that’s when it struck me why I felt so bothered by the system, or, more specifically, the finance impact on everyone sitting in that room with me, whether selected or not.
I first really noticed the issue when we were asked to turn in our paperwork, which was collected and sorted by number of jury duty days that our employers paid for.
The “no pay” stack quickly grew to be the biggest; actually, it wasn’t even close.
Other potential jurors I talked to throughout the day expressed concern that their obligation to be there caused unneeded strain on their pockets – one woman, whose name I don’t recall, said that it was costing her money to be there, and would continue to cost her if she was asked to return in the following days.
Did I mention that “financial hardship” is not considered adequate reason enough to be excused anymore? In fact, on their website The Superior Court of Los Angeles even states that “financial hardship requests are strictly scrutinized. The fact that your employer does not pay for jury duty service is not sufficient grounds for excuse.” Only if one can prove “EXTREME hardship” will they be excused.
We were informed at the beginning of the morning that those of us who were required to return in the following days would be paid $15 per day after the first day’s appearance, plus an additional 34 cents per miles traveled, one way. Considering that potential jurors are assigned to courts within a 20 mile radius of where they live, to say that the 34 cents adds up is a bit of an overstatement. It took all I could muster not to laugh out loud.
The lack of pay (should employers not pay for jury time), and the abysmal effort to compensate jurors by the court could easily terrorize an individual and their income, especially if called to one of the “rare” cases that last more than the projected three to seven day trial length average.
Yet, here I am, wanting to write a scathing retort of the unfairness towards the voluntold jury members, and the echoed words of my journalism professors’ keep telling me to present a solution.
And I find myself saying it’s not that simple.
I could easily just say to bump up the court’s compensation of short to long term jurors. It doesn’t take a government genius, however, to realize that a government body attempting to give more money would mean more taxes.
Instead, a suggestion to further obligate employers to compensate their employees who have been called to serve on jury duty, even if partially, and not just refrain from “discriminating against or firing” them during their service could alleviate the financial stress that so many feel. And yet with that last sentence, I somehow feel as if I just filled the letter-to-the-editor’s inbox for the week.
And while I sit here struggling to find the cure, I’m left not wanting to diminish the quality of my jury pool should I ever be faced with a trial.
It’s a complicated, imperfect system that comes with a double-edged sword. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our civic duties; in fact, I encourage it. However, it shouldn’t come with such a steep price tag.