Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Make Litigants Pay Jurors

Mrs Vache Folle had jury duty in Poughkeepsie yesterday. I assured her that she would not be selected as a juror since she is educated and trial lawyers don't like eductaed people on their juries if they can help it. It's not that they are deliberately trying to load the panel with dumbasses, not always anyway. They just want people who have a modicum of "common sense" and who will do as they're told and not overly influence the other jurors. Educated people tend to view things more abstractly and to lead the other jurors.

Anyhow, Mrs VF spent five hours on a hard bench while the lawyers did a tedious voir dire all that time to come up with 6 jurors and 2 alternates for a stupid slip and fall case. A bunch of other people were inconvenienced as well for no good reason. Mrs VF's employer paid her for the day, but it is not as if the work she could not do while she was in the jury pool was going to get done except with her putting in some extra hours. She had to pay to park, and she had to drive all the way to downtown Poughkeepsie with gas at $4.39 a gallon. Her compensation for this inconvenience by the court and the litigants? An insincere thank you from the judge.

Other folks in the pool were inconvenienced a lot more than Mrs VF. Some wage earners did not get paid for the day and had to make do with the measly $40 that the court gives you in such cases (when it gets around to it). Some had child care issues. For some, the expense of travellling and parking was much more of a burden due to their low incomes. And for what? So they could be dragged into some dispute between people they don't know and about which they care nothing.

It has always seemed wrong to me that a courtroom full of high priced lawyers and well paid judges and their henchpeople would serve as theater to a jury that is hardly compensated at all. Shouldn't these poor slobs dragged away from their lives for the convenience of private litigants or of the state and one of its victims get paid as well as the damned lawyers arguing the case?

The Constitution guarantees the "right" to a trial by jury. It also guarantees the right to counsel, but the state provides counsel only in cases where the criminally accused can't afford it. In private litigation, the state doesn't provide counsel to poor people. Why should the right to a trial by jury be any different? Why does every private litigant and every affluent criminal defendant and prosecutor get a free jury composed of strangers forced into involuntary servitude on their behalf? Make litigants pay for juries if they want them, say I. A lot of people would volunteer for juries if it paid well, and it would not be necessary to summon the unwilling.

Let each prospective juror who has volunteered note on the juror questionnaire (which they have provided in advance by correspondence) a minimum hourly rate for which he will serve. Let the litigants consider the rate as a factor in their selection process and call only those individuals whom they are willing to pay to the pool. The pool then gets paid for travel and waiting time and voir dire, and jurors who are selected get paid for all their time on the case. If sequestered, they get paid for all 24 hours of the day.

Won't this raise the cost of litigation significantly? Not at all. The cost will be the same, but less of it will be foisted on the public and will be borne by the interested parties instead. That's justice.

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