In Fixing the Engine of Justice: Diagnosis and Repair of Our Jury System, several recommendations are made for expanding the jury pool to better achieve the goal of creating pools that represent a cross-section of the venue, a concept reinforced in multiple Supreme Court cases. Those recommendations include dealing with the problem of no-shows and flimsy excuses for cause. Trial by video and night court are also discussed as alternatives to traditional trials, but one particular problem for many prospective jurors would still persist in traditional trials, especially lengthy ones – legitimate financial hardships. The solution is jury service insurance.
The basic concept is not entirely new. With unemployment insurance, we have had a similar system in place for decades. The same system could be expanded to cover jury service, or a parallel plan could be implemented along the same lines.
Calculating the premiums for such a policy is the ken of an actuary, but most of us know the basic principles of insurance premiums. They are based on the statistical probability an event will happen requiring payment on a policy. If the new jury pool were truly expanded to include the vast majority of our adult population, the chances of any one of us serving on a jury would be relatively slight. Accordingly, the premiums would be quite reasonable. For the self-employed, a similar plan could be designed. Just as those of us in this category must find and fund our own health plans, we would shop for the best policy for our particular needs.
The goal would be to pay jurors their full income while serving, or whatever portion of that income they choose to cover. There are options for both the employee and self-employed that should be explored.
In the case of the self-employed, the previous year’s tax returns or an average of the previous few years could be used to establish the limits of a full-pay option. Naturally, choosing that option would affect the premiums. In the case of an employee, responsibility for payment of the premiums would be an aspect of the employment agreement that might be open for negotiation between management and the employee or employee’s union.
Many eligible for jury service would be exempt from such a plan. These would include jurors whose income is from sources that would go on paying them regardless of their status as a juror. Examples would include those on fixed incomes or incomes from trusts.
Jury service insurance should also be made available to employers. While insurance for the employee covers his or her lost wages, the employer is still stuck with the expense of a temp employee or overtime wages for the remaining employees to cover the loss of the employee serving on a jury.
The effect would be to remove the most prevalent excuse from the hardship list. Those excuses are almost always legitimate, and are often offered by those citizens who would otherwise want to meet their duty. So, not only do we gain huge numbers of jurors, we improve the quality of the pool as well. Some of that improvement would result from jurors serving willingly rather than begrudgingly due to the financial hardship it causes. The system would respect them and, theoretically, get more respect from them.