A new law taking effect this month requiring higher pay for Illinois jurors will more than double county governments’ costs, and will lower the number of people on civil juries.
The law, signed by former Gov. Pat Quinn last December, raises the pay jurors receive in compensation for their service, and reduces the number of jurors required for a civil case to six.
Previously, jurors were paid a fee that varied from county to county, some as little as $5 per day. In Madison and St. Clair counties, jurors were paid $10 per day, plus mileage counted from the juror’s home to the courthouse.
Under the new law, jurors will be paid $25 for the first day and $50 for each additional day their presence is required. Mileage will likely no longer be compensated, according to county officials.
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While a juror cannot be fired for missing work for jury duty, Illinois does not require that employers pay their people for that time.
Madison County expects to see its budget for juror pay double, from $72,152 last year to approximately $144,000 next year. In St. Clair County, they expect to see even larger increases: from $84,286 last year to an estimated $400,000 for a full year under the new rules, according to St. Clair County Administrator Debra Moore. That is a general estimate, Moore said, as she is watching a proposed amendment in the hopes that the new pay will be reduced.
“We view it as another unfunded mandate that is excessively expensive,” Moore said. “We will be challenged to identify resources to recover the costs.”
The changes were supported by plaintiff attorneys. John Cooney, the immediate past president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers association, said the previous pay rates for jurors in Illinois were “almost insulting.”
“For those living paycheck to paycheck, we’ve seen people have their cars repossessed,” he said. “They aren’t going to be wealthy, but at least it offsets their transportation costs and meals… When I hear people say it doesn’t matter, it’s usually the people who can afford to do it.”
But John Pastuovic of the business-backed Illinois Civil Justice League believes plaintiff attorneys have another agenda behind the measure. The law also reduces the required number of jurors in civil cases from 12 to six.
“This legislation wasn’t really about jurors’ pay; the pay issue was really a ruse,” Pastuovic said. “(The new pay rate) isn’t going to really compensate people for their time. What this legislation was really about was decreasing the size of juries.”
Pastuovic said he believes smaller juries might be more easily swayed by a dominant personality and will mean higher awards for plaintiffs.
“A smaller jury often means a different outcome,” he said.
But Cooney said the federal courts have had six-person juries for as long as he has been a lawyer. “If it were an advantage, we would know that in the federal courts,” he said. “There is nothing magic about twelve jurors or six jurors. You need enough people to get a cross-section of the community.”
Cooney said the smaller number of jurors will mean lower costs for the counties that must now pay the higher rate, and it means fewer people being called for juries, so that citizens don’t get called up as often. He dismissed the idea that blue-collar jurors are more sympathetic to plaintiffs.
“Why would a blue-collar worker be more sympathetic to an injured person? What if the injured person is a billionaire?” he said. “If I had a bad case, I would expect to lose whether I had six people or twelve.”
Pastuovic said he believed the smaller juries would decrease diversity in the jury box, while Cooney said the increased pay would make it easier for lower-income people to participate.
Madison County Administrator Joseph Parente said they have not increased jury pay in at least the last five years. He said a call-in number they use for jurors to call so they can find out if they are needed helps save money; other small counties don’t have such a system, so every notified juror shows up and must be paid. “That system saves Madison County money,” he said.
Madison County Chief Judge David Hylla said that as far as he can recall, jurors usually do not complain about jury duty or their pay. But financial hardship does come up, he said.
“In my experience it’s not complaints per se, people saying they aren’t getting paid enough for this,” Hylla said. “People are very conscious of their civic duty, they want to do it and won’t complain.”
However, they do state economic hardship — as many as one or two per trial, Hylla said.
“They say, ‘I will miss work this week and I won’t get paid for it,’” he said. “In fairness to the citizens, they look at it like the reality: I have to make a house payment and buy groceries this month, and if I miss work, how will I do that?”
Hylla said each judge makes his or her own determination whether economic hardship will allow a juror to be excused, often depending on the length of the trial. Some last only a day or two; others can stretch on for weeks.
“There’s a fine line we have to walk because you get into this gray area: For almost everybody, it is some financial hardship,” Hylla said. “Years ago, people had union contracts that included an agreement to pay people when they had jury duty, but those (situations) have considerably decreased… The judge has to weigh the juror’s hardship versus disruption to the system. You cannot excuse everyone who works.”
For Hylla, it’s also about increasing diversity in the jury box. “Do we want a system where we only have retired people or the independently wealthy sitting on juries?” he said.
Two U.S. Supreme Court cases have upheld that a six-person jury is constitutional: In 1970, Williams v. Florida established that six-member juries were constitutional in noncapital criminal cases. In 1973, Colgrove v. Battin extended that decision to civil cases. Since then, at least half the states have gone to six-person civil juries; according to news reports, only twelve other states require a unanimous 12-person jury on civil cases.
There are even six-person juries on criminal cases permitted in two states, including Florida, which tried George Zimmerman with a six-person jury on murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was acquitted, though there was much criticism of the composition of the jury: five white women and one Hispanic woman.
Hylla said the chief judges in Illinois are specifically looking at this issue, in particular minority representation on jury panels throughout the state, he said. He said he believes increased participation in jury duty will be better for the system.
“The less burdensome (jury duty) is, the less people will try to get out of doing it,” Hylla said. “It’s a step in the right direction, if the taxpayers can afford it.”
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.