Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jury Duty and Other Stuff

Yesterday I spent a mercifully short time on jury duty--three hours from arrival to dismissal. My group was called for 1:00, and most of us spent the whole time in the jury assembly room. California has adopted the "one day, one trial" rule, which means that if you aren't selected for voir dire on your first day, you're done. If you are selected, you can be forced to come back for a second day. That's happened to me almost every time I've been called. My fellows did not look happy; in fact, they were bored and unhappy at being forced to be there.

And it's not because they don't like doing their civic duty. It's because they are treated like cattle, and their time is so little respected that they're paid $15 a day plus one-way mileage for their time. I've always said that if the courts had to pay a more reasonable sum for jury service, the courts would rapidly figure out a system that didn't keep a couple hundred people waiting around for two days. Unfortunately the only way to convince the courts to change is to ignore the jury summons. That's what happened when people decided that they weren't willing to hang out in the jury pool for a week. So many people ignored the summons that the courts had to come up with a new system, and "one day, one trial" was born.

But one of the worst policies of the Sacramento courts is that they define hardship as being the "sole provider" for your household. This conveniently ignores the reality--that most households need the income of all working members to make it to the next paycheck, and only government employers are required to pay employees when they're on jury duty. (This actually benefits the Sacramento courts, as a large percentage of the potential pool is made up of government employees.) The court doesn't have to recognize that most of the population isn't middle class, and can't afford any time off work at $15--plus mileage one way--per day. The most efficient system would be to exempt those below a set income based on family size. For instance, a family of four with an income below the reasonable cost of living (about $50K in Sacramento County for a family with one working parent, and $70K for a family with two working parents) would be automatically exempt unless the employer paid for jury service. And yes, it would exempt a good portion of the population, as the County's median income is about $52K.

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