THE BLOG

California Judges Need to Be More Sensitive to Financial Plight of Jurors

04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is time to get tough with judges -- those who have a callous disregard for the financial reality of our times and economic hardships imposed on a growing number of Californians called for jury duty.

A Los Angeles Times article by Carol J. Williams talks about how some jurors are becoming so "disgruntled," they are openly rebellious -- in one case, apparently forcing what would have been a trial by jury to become, instead, a trial by judge!

With a state unemployment and underemployment rate exceeding the national average, the courts are seeing more and more people who are claiming financial hardship if they end up having to serve on a jury trial that might last days or even weeks. While most jury trials are short, there is always the chance of getting stuck on one that seemingly goes on and on and on. The judge gets paid. The lawyers get paid. The court recorder gets paid. The people who clean the courts get paid. The jurors? They get paid, but the ridiculous amount of $15 a day.

For those who have full time employment, especially with large companies, serving on jury duty is usually not a financial burden since their companies typically will pay them as usual, minus the $15 a day they get for serving.

The problem is for those who are freelancing, own their own business, or looking for employment: Each day of jury service is a day of lost pay. It's a day that puts them one step closer to not being able to make their mortgage payment, or pay the electric bill, or have enough for that doctor co-pay.

Because about half of those summoned in Los Angeles County apparently do not even answer the call, according to the Times article, the county is becoming "stricter" in its scrutiny of potential jurors who claim financial hardship.

Oh really!

Well, how about this for "scrutiny" -- trial judges in this state are elected or appointed, with those appointed facing election at the end of a six year term. It is time that voters use the power of the ballot box to purge the court system of judges who do not have the humanity or common sense to understand when they are pushing too far!

I even think a website keeping track of the names of such judges would be a useful tool for voters to use.

Yes, serving on a jury is considered a civic duty. And, every American is entitled, depending upon the alleged offense, to a trial by a jury or his or her peers. But we are living in difficult economic times and the courts must be extra-sensitive about that. What civic good is accomplished, I ask, by a judge who tries to force a potential juror to serve on a trial when that juror will be counting the days till dismissal in order to get back to work, or back to looking for work?

The county, says the Times, has also "tightened sanctions for repeat no-shows, imposing fines of as much as $1,500."

That's real smart! Fine people who already don't have enough money to make ends meet! Nice touch!

Justice is supposed to be blind; it doesn't have to be stupid, too.

Clearly, a person whose company will pay for their time while serving on a jury is a better candidate than is a person who will end up payless for the days or weeks in service to the county.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting to KNX1070 Newsradio.