“Grossly Underpaid”: Hoosiers Would Earn More For Jury Duty Under Proposal
By: Leslie Bonilla Muniz
Hoosiers haven’t seen a pay increase for jury duty in at least two decades, but that could change — even double — under a bill advancing steadily through the Statehouse.
But corresponding fee increases have sparked debate on how to fund the criminal justice system: as a public service, or through the people using it.
Hoosiers who show up for jury selection earn $15 per day. Those chosen to serve earn $40 per day — about $5 dollars hourly for an eight-hour workday. That hasn’t changed since at least 2004, when lawmakers reorganized the state’s criminal justice codes.
“I say, if it’s a 10-hour day, ‘Thank you, and here’s your $4 an hour,’” Lake County Superior Court Judge Sam Cappas told lawmakers in committee this month. “That’s what they’re getting for the work that they do. They’re grossly underpaid.”
And jury pay is taxable. Some localities do offer mileage reimbursements.
House Bill 1466 would double daily appearance pay to $30 and jury pay itself to $80 for the first five days. Starting day six, jury pay would increase to $90 daily.
But it would increase the $2 jury fees defendants pay to $6, and create a new $75 jury fee for people filing civil torts or plenary actions, to fund the higher pay. The latter would be on top of an existing $100 civil filing fee.
Local units of government pay jurors, and also collect the fees to help finance juries. State finance would be unaffected, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.
Getting Hoosiers in the door
Some in the legal system say that low pay depresses the number of people that show up for jury duty. Still more potential jurors go hoping they’ll get rejected.
“People don’t want to be there. I mean, people work very hard to get out of jury duty,” Allen County Superior Court Judge Frances C. Gull told the Capital Chronicle. “… It is hard to get people to commit to jury duty because they are looking at financial hardship.”
“Extreme” hardship is a legitimate way to get out of jury duty, but anything less severe won’t get you out. That’s in order to keep the broadest array of potential jurors possible.
“In each and every trial, invariably there are a handful of people that say they cannot afford to sit for jury service,” Cappas, an Indiana Jury Committee member, told lawmakers. “They live check-to-check and when it’s not enough to compensate them, they can’t pay their bills.”
If they’re removed from the jury selection pool, he said, “that results in the parties not having a fair cross-section of the community. … The plaintiff and the defendant do not have the right people to hear the facts and testimony.”
Indiana is actually middle-of-the-pack nationally for jury pay. Five states pay $5—$7.50 daily, at the low end, according to Jury Duty 101. At the high end, six pay $5o daily.
The bill, authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Greenwood, would put Indiana far ahead of the rest of the country. Davis didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Making a mostly self-sustaining system
But to raise jury pay, Davis’ bill gets money from elsewhere.
It hikes up the jury fee that people found guilty must pay, from $2 to $6. That increase is expected to bring in an additional $1.1 million—$1.7 million annually, according to the fiscal analysis.
The bill also creates a $75 jury fee for people who file civil torts or plenary actions, which could generate an estimated $552,000—$706,000 annually.
The Indiana Jury Committee, which recommended the provisions contained in the bill, said it didn’t want to leave local governments picking up the tab on higher pay.
“We didn’t feel like it was our function or our decision to say this should come out of taxpayer dollars in some other fashion,” Delaware Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Dowling told lawmakers.
Dowling, who is also a committee member, said that’s why the group didn’t add the $75 filing fee to collections or mortgage foreclosure cases, because those typically don’t use the jury system.
Push for a “public service” funding approach
But some say the tab shouldn’t go to people involved in the criminal justice system.
“It should be a public service,” Gull told the Capital Chronicle. “I’m a firm believer in that. It’s unfortunate that we try to fund so many things in the criminal justice system on the backs of the users of that system.”
She said 80% of the defendants in her courtroom have public defenders, meaning that they don’t have the money to hire their own attorneys.
“It isn’t great. [But] I’ll take it if that’s all we can get,” Gull concluded.
The Judicial Conference of Indiana, in a 2020 10-year strategic plan, called the state’s current funding structure “inefficient and unfair.” It recommended that the state kick in some more funding for needy local governments, and ideally cover the whole tab.
“I do hope that the General Assembly, in the future, will take that on holistically,” Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Bernice Corley told lawmakers.
The outlook for Hoosiers serving jury duty
Brian Gould’s first worry when he was called to serve late last summer was child care.
Gould took paid time off from his construction industry lobbying job, but knew neither he nor his wife — a nurse working long hours — would be able to make the 2:45 p.m. bus drop-off for their three children.
They managed to find care for the two-day Hamilton County trial, but Gould noted a longer trial of a week or more would’ve been “a huge commitment.”
“There were a couple people in the jury that were retired, so it didn’t impact their work schedule, it didn’t impact their finances,” Gould said. “But, you know, if you are having to take time off from work, you’re not getting paid and now you’re having to potentially pay for child care on top of that, I think [raising jury pay] is probably a wise thing to do.”
Gould said he and most of his fellow jurors got the summons and dreaded the service, but after getting selected, “knew what type of responsibility we had.”
“Not that I would want to do it on a regular basis … but I was glad I was able to participate in the process,” he said. “… I would be hopeful that most juries would put in the time and effort that our group did.”
But he said he wasn’t sure a bigger token of appreciation would change how Hoosiers feel about serving. Gould himself got his check in the mail several weeks later and initially thought it was a tax refund of some kind.
The bill flew through its original committee and a financial one this month on unanimous votes. The House also passed it unanimously, on February 14.
It’s now in the Senate awaiting consideration.
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