Jurors' pay would increase to minimum wage under proposal

Ann Knef Feb. 1, 2007, 2:23am

Rep. Jack Franks

Ed Murnane

A state lawmaker wants to raise juror pay by around 600 percent as an incentive to create a more representative jury pool.

State Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-Woodstock) has introduced a bill that would provide grand and petit jurors minimum wage pay for eight hours of work for each day they're in court.

In Madison and St. Clair counties, that would mean an increase from $10 to $60 per day based on the hourly minimum wage rate of $7.50 that goes into effect later this year. Currently, minimum wage is $6.50 per hour.

In some state courts juror pay is only $4 or $5 per day.

Franks said he expects to face opposition from county governments which would have to bear the increased costs.

Madison County trial court administrator Teri Picchioldi, who handles juror pay, said the pay hike as proposed by Franks would have a substantial impact on her office.

In fiscal year 2006, the county budgeted $85,000 for the $10 per day stipend for jurors. Of that, $73,050 was expended. The budget for fiscal year 2007 was cut to $76,000.

If 7,600 jurors were paid $60 per day, that would amount to $456,000.

Figures for St. Clair County were not available over the phone, unless a Freedom of Information Act request is submitted. However, budget figures are available to the public by walking in to the county clerk's office.

Franks said he's willing to compromise, but believes paying jurors a respectable amount should be a priority for county court budgets.

"I'm most concerned about the financial burden of trying to do civic duty and only being paid $4 a day," Franks said. "That doesn't even cover gas costs. To serve is a hardship."

Franks said many juries are composed of "a lot of retirees" which means they are not "totally" representative of the people.

"Our Founding Fathers established that we be judged by a jury of our peers," Franks said.

The bill sponsored by Franks, HB303, has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) President Ed Murnane agrees that juror pay needs to be increased. Under the current system the state's jury pools are "severely restricted," he said.

The ICJL will be re-introducing a similar proposal in the state legislature this month calling for increased juror compensation.

In previous legislative sessions, the ICJL has supported increased juror compensation measures that address the hardship of sitting on lengthy trials.

Murnane said that it becomes difficult to serve on a jury when it goes on two or more weeks.

He said increased pay would expand and broaden the jury pool so that there is a wider range of people who are willing and able to serve on a jury.

Not unlike other necessary public services such as police, educators and snow removers, "this is a service that county governments have to provide its citizens," Murnane said. He said that increased filing fees in civil cases could help offset the additional cost placed on county governments.

Murnane also said that better pay will reduce the need for citizens to plead hardship, which he says right now is not difficult for potential jurors to do.

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