Improving the Jury Duty system

2013 November 15
by Daniel Lakeland

I had to postpone Jury Duty with the county of Los Angeles this week. Things worked out fine and now it won't interfere with family reunions or my wife's biology conference. But in thinking about Jury Duty and having to take the online orientation, it became clear that we need to fix the economics of this system.

Here in LA county Jurors are paid $15 each day after the first day that they are on duty. Now, this is clearly a slap in the face. Jurors are selected at random from a large pool of people. The average productivity of a given person is going to be at least on the order of the GDP/capita/working day of the US. It's going to be slightly higher in LA than in other parts of the country because cost of living is higher so there's a bias there, but order of magnitude that's going to be pretty much correct. How much is that?

According to Google, GDP/capita of US in 2012 is about $50,000

There are more or less (365*5/7-5*3) working days in the year. So the figure we're talking about is: $200/day or so. $15/day is about 7.5% of the societal cost of compelling jury service.

Now, there's a definite benefit to jury service, in that we have laws that are enforced and are able to avoid all sorts of societal problems, but the jury costs are born by either the jurors or their employers, whereas the benefits accrue to everyone.

Furthermore, if you're going to have a 5 day trial with 12 jurors and 3 alternates you're going to eat up about $15,000 in productivity, whereas if the trial is a Civil trial, maybe it's only about $9000 worth of unpaid rent or something. Society loses on the net just on the lost productivity of jurors.

So, my proposal is this, courts pay Jurors GDP/capita/working day for any day they are called to the court (including the first day). Courts raise this money by charging court fees to the losing parties in Civil lawsuits in courts other than small claims court. This means it doesn't pay to go to court over amounts that aren't significantly larger than this basic cost reducing the abuse of the court system. And, small claims courts have their maximum dollar amounts raised to 15*5*GDP/capita/working day to handle disputes that aren't worth a jury trial. The fees would have to be high enough that they also cover the jury costs of criminal trials where the losing party likely isn't going to pay, though fines could be assessed as well in those cases.

I think under this system, far fewer people would duck jury duty with contrived excuses, and the quality of juries would probably rise as well.

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