Improving Jury Duty

As I read the papers today at lunch, I noted that the Los Angeles Times is highlighting an interesting article today related to Jury Duty, and how jurors are becoming disgrutled, according to the article, by the low pay (in Los Angeles County, $15/day, except for the first day, up from $5/day). They are blaming this on the fact that many companies no longer pay for jury duty pay, and with the economic times, this creates financial hardship for people. There are some who believe that raising the pay to $40/day will help. I don’t believe that’s wholly the problem, but first, a minor rant….

(rant on)
I firmly believe that employers with legal requirements to employ US citizens should be legally required to cover some minimum number of days of jury duty for those employees. Jury duty is a vital requirement of being a citizen, just as voting is. For those without the US citizen employment requirement, there should be some tax incentive for covering jury duty for citizen employees. In such cases, the employee should be paid by the employer, and the city/county only required to pay mileage. That said, I can see some of the financial hardship argument, especially for those self-employed or those with more day-by-day non-guaranteed employement (such as substitute teachers). It is those people that would be addressed with better juror pay (and municipal entities might be able to afford it if the idea in that rant was implemented).
(rant off)

However, I think the real problem is that the courts demand respect from jurors for the process, but they don’t respect the time of those jurors. Court schedules rarely use juror time efficiently. The schedules rarely permit jurors to work around pre-scheduled events (such as standing work meetings) that might be critical, or to have an accurate prediction of when they will be completed with Jury service. They often leave the jurors waiting around doing crossword puzzles (if you’re lucky, you can review documents in the juror room). Even improvements to the system don’t help: LA County’s call in system (you call in the night before to see if you need to report) creates a problem with schedule planning, as you don’t know if you will be called in that week, and if you are called in on Friday, it is highly likely the next week is impacted, and perhaps the week after that. As such, all jurors want is to get the process done with quickly, to not get on a case. However, if the tables were turned (i.e., if you or I were on trial), we would likely want the most intelligent and rational jurors.

I remember the old days, when you actually had to sit in the jury room for your full service term. Yes, it was a pain, but you knew the time and could block it off for reviewing documents. There were certainly tricks (such as getting transferred to municipal court, where you could get short traffic cases). But it was predictable.

Nowadays? Everyone I talk to seems to get called in more frequently. When they do get called in, the thought process turns to what to say during voir dire to get one side or the other to kick you off. Do you exploit your favoritism for law enforcement? Do you exploit that recent burglery you had? Do you emphasize your objective scientific nature, because lawyers don’t like rational thinking jurors? Do you couch your answers to get you on the jury? Actually, scratch that last one: I can rarely recall any friends that wanted to get on a trial.

Speaking of the trial, how much does your behavior change based on the estimated length of the trial. If it is early in your call-in week, and it’s a 2-day trial, do you treat the voir dire process differently than if the judge tells you it will be a 6-month trial? Is this because of the inconvenience a long trial will bring to your life and livelihood?

Lastly, I wonder how much the media is to blame for the jury problem. For most jurors, their image of a trial is from television programs such as Law and Order (which focus more on the law enforcement and the lawyers, not the trial). There’s precious little on the jury experience — for most of us, it is the image of “12 Angry Men” (not familiar with it? REP East is doing it April 23 – May 2.). Would jury participation be improved if we had a good TV drama presenting the view of the juror? Presenting the voir dire process, demonstrating all the different types of people and stories out there? Presenting the trial as the juror sees it, including the subsequent deliberation? Might that change the notions of participation?

So what’s your solution to the problem of getting high quality juries?