Jurors don’t do it for the money
Lynn Ervin has heard all the excuses.
It has been dramatized and glorified in movies and plays, but Ervin knows that in real life jury service is a duty people try to avoid.
“I once gave a woman a postponement because her dog had puppies. It was a litter intended for future police use. She needed to stay home and take care of them. I also gave a postponement to one of the people who received one of the puppies,” said Ervin, a jury coordinator for the El Dorado County Superior Court. “It was a postponement. They weren’t excused. They just had to come back at a later time.”
Most people have no choice. If they fit the criteria, they must do their civic duty. Ervin can not guarantee exciting courtroom drama every trial, but without jurors the American justice system would grind to a halt. In recognition for their efforts, jurors summoned this week were greeted with pastries, banners and balloons. Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury wishes it was more.
“The $5 a day set by the Legislature is grossly inadequate. Particularly if the employer doesn’t pay for the lost time or for someone who relies on tips to make ends meet,” she said. “The only people who really have protection in that area are government workers, people who work for non-tip sorts of jobs, and people who work for large employers. We recognize that it is an inconvenience, and we recognize that it can be a bit of a financial hardship. I support any legislation that would give additional compensation to jurors.”
Kingsbury said the legislation’s move toward a one-summons, one-trial-a-year policy by 2000 will help take off some of the burden.
“Most people can afford to serve for one day. With the new legislation, after they show up and serve that is their trial for the year. They won’t be summoned again,” she said.
Ervin said in the past El Dorado had a limited jury pool and individuals would receive summons every four to six weeks all year.
“We would send out a questionnaire and only the people who returned it would make the list. Now the list is drawn from voter registration and DMV records,” she said. “With the new policy, even if they are not selected for jury service, once they have had to come in it counts.”
People can get one postponement a year and there are a few legal excuses. If you are not a U.S. citizen, or 18 years old, or able to read and understand English, don’t worry about it – you can’t serve anyway. People can be excused for a permanent medical condition, or a verifiable personal obligation to care for a sick or aged dependent, or because to serve would cause “undue hardship.”
Once seated on a jury individuals must “keep an open mind, listen to the evidence, follow the court’s instructions, and be willing to make a decision,” Kingsbury said.
El Dorado County is also looking for volunteers to serve on the 1999-2000 Grand Jury. Its role is to act as an investigative body. Members meet several times a month to study concerns and problems with local government. In mid-June, 19 jurors will be selected in a random drawing. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have resided in the county for at least one year.
For more information, call (530) 621-6451 or (530) 621-7469.
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