New CA Bill Pilots Higher Compensation for Low-Income Jurors in San Francisco
Posted June 30, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO - Yesterday, AB 1452, establishing the “Be the Jury” pilot program, passed out of the California Senate Public Safety Committee. AB 1452, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, would authorize a first-of-its-kind pilot program in San Francisco Superior Court. The program will compensate low-income jurors $100 a day for their jury service with the goal of establishing juries that are more reflective of San Francisco’s diverse communities.
AB 1452 is co-sponsored by San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros, Public Defender Mano Raju, and District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
“The ‘Be The Jury’ pilot program will make the civic duty of serving on a jury accessible to all San Franciscans, regardless of the size of their wallet,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros. “The nominal juror compensation provided under current law places a significant financial burden that prevents too many low-income people from serving on a jury.”
Because income inequality is strongly correlated with race and ethnicity, juries have become less racially diverse due to an inability to afford to participate, and tend to be composed of people who can afford to serve unpaid or who have employers who will pay them while they are serving.
“The right to a jury of one’s peers is at the core of our justice system, but it’s common for my office, and our clients, to see juries that do not reflect the diversity of our city, and our communities,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “I began raising this issue as a line deputy public defender, based on what we were seeing in court and based on what we were hearing from the community. After becoming the elected Public Defender of San Francisco, I approached the Treasurer and suggested this concrete step to address what is really a nationwide problem. After years of hard work, I am pleased that it has now evolved into a bill that will bring us one step closer towards providing fairer trials. It will also hopefully increase civic engagement opportunities for potential jurors who are otherwise deprived of the right to serve.”
“As a champion for promoting diversity in our jury pools, I am proud to co-sponsor AB 1452. Justice and fairness demand that the jurors tasked with making decisions on behalf of the community actually reflect the diversity of our city. The pilot project established by AB 1452 would be an important step towards advancing diverse jury pools in San Francisco and I urge the legislature to pass this bill,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
In San Francisco, a survey by the Administrative Office of the Courts of California found that 35 percent of jurors report that jury service imposed a financial hardship. While California law requires employers to provide time off for employees who are summoned to jury duty, employers are not required to compensate employees who serve on a jury. If a juror’s employer does not cover their salary while serving, jurors earn nothing on their first day of service and $15 per day after that. In California, approximately two-thirds of employers, primarily public and large private employers, provide some compensation to employees summoned for jury service.
“Economic hardship shouldn’t deter people from serving on juries. On top of lost wages, the $15 per day that jurors are paid barely covers their transportation and meal expenses,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1452. “Higher compensation for jury duty will help ensure that our jury pools are more reflective of the communities they are serving. This legislation helps put us on a path to more diverse and inclusive juries.”
The “Be The Jury” program will compensate jurors with low-to-moderate incomes $100 per day for jury service in criminal trials in San Francisco Superior Court for the duration of the pilot. Jurors are eligible if their household income is less than 80% Area Median Income ($71,700 for a single person; $102,500 for a household of four) and if they meet one of the following criteria: (1) their employer does not compensate for jury service; (2) their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of jury service; (3) they are self-employed; or (4) they are unemployed.Stakeholders will conduct an evaluation of the pilot program once it is completed.
The “Be The Jury” pilot program is funded by philanthropic dollars raised by the San Francisco Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project.