Jury Service Doesn’t Have to Be an Ordeal


The state Senate could take an important first step next week toward improving the experience of jury service for all Californians, and thereby their eagerness to perform this civic duty.

Without question, jury service too often is burdensome or even downright unpleasant. The trial courts in Los Angeles have had an especially hard time finding enough men and women to fill their jury panels. And without enough capable and impartial jurors, the quality of jury verdicts, and justice, will suffer.

Although the problem is most acute in Los Angeles, the reasons that so many people dodge jury summonses are familiar to court administrators across the state. Transportation to the courthouse and child care can be costly, compensation for service ($5 a day in Los Angeles) is paltry and some employers actively discourage their employees from serving. Discourteous court officials and inadequate amenities for jurors can compound the problems.


The California Judicial Council, the policymaking arm of the state courts, last year issued a series of recommendations designed to improve jury service--for the courts and for the jurors themselves. Many are now embodied in a bill introduced by Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier). The bill, which goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, would raise juror pay to $40 daily, improve reimbursement for transportation, help with child care costs in hardship cases and provide tax credits to employers who pay their employees during jury service. These changes should enable the courts to draw upon a larger and more diverse pool of jurors, which should enhance the integrity of the verdicts they render.

We hope the changes will eventually allow L.A. County to cut its term of jury service from 10 days or one trial down closer to one day or one trial, the requirement in Orange and Riverside counties. The bill, if passed, will also prod recalcitrant citizens into serving by placing a temporary hold on the driver’s licenses of those who repeatedly fail to respond to a summons.

But one provision of this otherwise worthy bill is unwarranted and dangerous. Calderon would require that the names and other identifying information on potential jurors be undisclosed in all civil and criminal trials. The judge and attorneys could see this information in order to weed out unsuitable jurors, but defense attorneys in criminal cases could not share it with the defendant. No other state has instituted such a policy as a matter of common trial practice, and California should not either.

The impetus for this proposed change is not fear of retribution against jurors--there have been few such incidents--but rather a free-floating concern that this might happen. That’s a dubious reason to alter one of our justice system’s most obvious strengths, its openness. Otherwise, Sen. Calderon, you’ve got it right.