It’s time to raise juror pay in Athens.
No one serves on a jury for the money. We serve because it’s one of the responsibilities of citizenship, and maybe for a chance to see the legal system in action. Of course, we don’t actually have a choice: we’re legally obligated to serve when summoned! For salaried employees, forced jury duty can be annoying, but it’s also a paid vacation from work. For others, it can be a major financial burden. There’s actually no law in Georgia requiring jurors be paid for time missed from work (although there is a legal opinion supporting this idea1).
How much are jurors paid?
Federal jurors had their pay raised to $50 / day last year (from $40). The last time they got a pay raise was 1990! That sounds like good news until you account for inflation. Their pay should’ve been raised to at least $77.82 / day just to keep even. Here in Athens-Clarke County, jurors have been paid $25 / day for at least 30 years, if not longer, according to District Attorney Ken Mauldin. $25 in 1989 would be the equivalent of $51.96 in today’s dollars.
Grand juries in Athens have been formally asking for a pay raise since at least 2012. They asked again in 2018 and twice already this year.
The January 2019 Grand Jury also included some data in their final report about the juror pay rates in other Georgia counties. Many pay the same as Athens, but some pay up to the legal limit set by the state of $50 / day. This group of jurors asked for a raise to $40 / day, but even at $50 / day, their pay wouldn’t even keep up with inflation from the 1989 rate.
The Mayor and Commission declined to include a pay raise for jurors in the FY 2020 budget. To be fair to the commission, most of them probably aren’t even aware of this problem. Hopefully, they will remember to include the pay increase in the FY 2021 budget.
Why is low juror pay a problem?
Jury duty is our civic responsibility and meeting that responsibility shouldn’t put financial stress on poor families. Remember, part-time workers in Georgia are not paid by their employers for time missed at work. At $25 / day, this amounts to only $5 / hour (if you assume an average of 5 hours a day). That’s below minimum wage! Our minimum wage has problems of it’s own — it’s set at a poverty level right now and also has not been raised in some time. But juror pay in Athens does not even meet that low bar.
For a low-income individual, receiving a jury summons can be an unexpected financial shock. Why should people suffer for doing their civic duty?
It doesn’t have to be like this, and shouldn’t be in a caring community. It’s time to raise juror pay.
1 – In 1989, the Georgia Attorney General wrote a legal opinion stating that jurors should be paid by their employers, if they are working full-time. The employer is allowed to subtract juror compensation from this amount. Employers do not have to pay those working part-time at all. This opinion has never been challenged in court, with most employers paying their employees more or less voluntarily.