I was overly optimistic when I lauded the recent pay raise for Dallas County jurors from $6.00 per day to $40.00 per day. I thought that would allow more blue-collar workers to serve on juries, since they would be receiving more money for the hours they missed from work. That would help plaintiffs, because the blue-collar plaintiffs would be able to have a jury of their peers rather than a jury of insurance agents and bankers.
Unfortunately, according to a story in today’s Dallas Morning News, that is not happening. Here are excerpts from the story:
More than three-quarters of the people called for jury duty in Dallas County didn’t show up this year, despite threats from judges and recent changes that include a raise and more accurate mailing addresses.
A year ago, the Texas Legislature raised pay for jurors from $6 a day to $40 for the second day of service and every day thereafter.
But the increase has had little effect on how many people show up for jury duty. In fiscal 2006, only 23 percent of those summoned appeared, up from 19.5 percent in 2005.
But those trying to boost turnout say many people who skip jury duty are hourly workers who can’t afford to take a day off, arrange child care and pay for transportation or parking downtown.
That causes racial minorities and low-income people to be underrepresented, they say. Hispanics make up 26 percent of the county’s adult population but only 11 percent of those who show up for felony juries, according to a 2005 Dallas Morning News analysis.
The Legislature increased jury pay to ease the financial hardship. But 95 percent of potential jurors who show up for duty serve one day, for which they still receive only $6. Dallas Area Rapid Transit offers free buses and trains. But parking is $3, and lunch isn’t free.
While several judges vowed in 2005 to send Dallas County sheriff’s deputies to pick up jury duty scofflaws, the Sheriff’s Department said there hasn’t been a crackdown.
Criminal court Judge John Creuzot said budgets don’t allow for massive enforcement. “Can’t do it if you ain’t got the money,” he said.