Jury Duty: What to Expect and How It Will Affect Your Job
You Have Been Summoned
Did you know, when you register to vote, you are automatically signed up to be a juror? And now, there’s that envelope on the table, return address: The Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Oh, no. You’ve been summoned for jury duty.
What about work? Will your boss be upset you’ll be out? Will you get paid? Can you keep up with your assignments on the job? How long will you be obligated to serve? Do you really have to do this?
One thing you should never do, no matter what your misgivings, is ignore the summons. You can be fined up to $1,500 for failing to respond to a jury duty summons. So follow the instructions outlined in the summons, talk to your supervisor right away about the impact of your absence on your work, and you’ll get through this. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.
1) Register & call in. In Los Angeles County, the summons will ask you to call into an automated system and register by phone as the first step. Then you are required to call in each evening, usually for five nights, to see if you need to appear in Court the next day.
2) Discuss with your supervisor. Section 230 of the California Labor Code prohibits an employer from firing, discriminating against or retaliating against an employee for taking time off to serve on an inquest jury or trial jury, but you do have to let your employer know with reasonable notice you’ve been summoned.
You’ll need to figure out, along with your boss, how your work will get done, whether some of it can be delegated, done off-site or after hours (depending on your exempt or nonexempt status), or postponed until you return. Most employers and supervisors know your service is required and that their cooperation is expected.
While they have to give you time off, California companies are not required to pay employees their salary or other compensation while they are serving jury duty. Many do pay a jury pay benefit as part of time-off benefits, some do not. Most will allow you to take vacation or personal time pay. The compensation paid by the Court is $15 per day for any days after the initial one is served. Yes, that’s for all day — and might cover lunch.
You are also entitled to mileage (one way) reimbursement from the court at $0.34 a mile. This amount was determined by the California legislature well before gasoline hit $3 bucks a gallon, and, again, this might cover your gasoline, but very well may not. This jury service is not a lucrative business.
Other Things to Consider
Despite the lack of financial reward, jury duty is an important part of our legal system and really should be considered a privilege instead of a nuisance. Having people available to serve on juries is what guarantees each of us the right to a trial by jury, a practice long considered protection against excessive government power.
The State of California has been trying to make it easier on us since jury duty is an intrusion into our everyday lives, and sometimes into our wallets or our vacation time if our employer does not pay a separate benefit for jury duty.
There are opportunities to defer or postpone one’s service, but the Court is very strict nowadays in making sure those called do their service and is much less likely to grant hardship exemptions for financial or other reasons than in years past. But the one-day service plan has greatly lessened the burden for many reporting for jury duty.
What to Expect
All courts within California have implemented a one trial or a one-day jury service term. This means that if you are asked to appear and are not included in a "panel" or pool of people to be questioned in the jury selection process that day, then that’s it; one day and you’re done.
If you are on a panel being questioned by attorneys for both sides, you’re committed to remain in that pool, even if selection runs more than one day, until you are either chosen or excused as not being desirable for that jury. You may be rejected on a "preemptory challenge" by either attorney, which can happen for many, many reasons, none of which you should take personally. If you are not chosen to be either one of the 12 jurors or one of the alternates, then again, your service is complete and you can go back to work.
People selected to be on a trial will report to the courtroom on the days and times specified by the judge. An average trial takes five to seven workdays. Some people actually enjoy the break from their everyday routine and the education they receive listening to trial proceedings. The popularity of courtroom shows on TV attest to the fact that many people find trials fascinating.
After receiving specific instructions on how to consider the evidence and how to conduct yourself during the trial, it is the duty of each juror to pay close attention and give careful thought to all the evidence presented. In deliberations, you must work diligently with the other jurors to reach a fair verdict.
At this point, you have someone’s future in your hands. Making sure the right person is convicted for whatever criminal or civil offense is involved is your job for a few days and a serious responsibility. Getting justice and perhaps eventual restitution for the victim depends on you also. What’s going on at the office may be on your mind (is your coworker or assistant handling that really important project correctly?), but it’s important to be fully present for the trial.
After deliberations are completed and a verdict has been reached, the jury will return to the courtroom and the jury foreman (maybe even you) will announce the decision to the court.
The judge will thank you all for your service and you can go back to your overflowing inbox, hundreds of unanswered emails, full voice mailbox and endless meetings, knowing you’ve done your civic duty and helped support what’s not a perfect justice system, but certainly one of the world’s best.
Suzanne Ridgway is a regular columnist for Working World and Working Nurse magazines.