Researchers concluded that racial and ethnic minority populations are underrepresented as jurors in most Washington jurisdictions.

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Jurors play a vital role in our justice system, and their participation is essential to maintaining our civic infrastructure and the protection of our rights and liberties. One juror recently shared her experience on jury duty at Seattle Municipal Court in an Op-Ed, “Jury duty in Seattle: Am I in 1930s Mississippi?” [Jan. 27, Opinion]. As judges of the Seattle Municipal Court, we are grateful for Seattle residents like the author who participate as jurors in our court, fulfilling a critical civic responsibility. We appreciate the author sharing her experience and observations as a juror, and this feedback is valuable to our ongoing improvement as an institution.

As a bench, we are acutely aware of racial disproportionality in the individuals who appear before us in a case, the attorneys who present the issues as either prosecutor or defense attorney, and the jurors chosen for a trial. We share the author’s concerns with ensuring that jury panels are racially diverse and representative of the Seattle community.

By Washington state law, jurors are summoned from a jury source list that merges a list of registered voters with driver’s license and state-issued identification card records. The list provided to our court is a subset of only those who reside in Seattle. Race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status are not data elements provided to the court. The list may be more than a year old and not have the most current addresses. We have no way to predict the diversity of the prospective juror pool that appears in a week for jury service. If the author had appeared in another courtroom that day or the week before or perhaps months later, she may have observed a very different composition of jury and case-participant diversity.

In case you missed it

“I will never forget the scene in that courtroom: One African-American man surrounded by a sea of white people deciding his fate. Mississippi in the 1930s or Seattle in 2017?” wrote Lynne Baab, a Seattle Presbyterian minister and author in an Op-Ed. Go online:

The Washington state Supreme Court established the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission in 1990 to identify and eradicate the effects of racial, ethnic and cultural bias in our state court system, and Seattle Municipal Court judges and magistrates have actively participated on the commission.

In 2015, former Seattle Municipal Court Judge Steve Rosen, now on the King County Superior Court bench, worked with the commission to develop and distribute a voluntary juror survey to better understand and measure juror diversity. The survey data was collected over the course of a year, from February 2016 to February 2017, from a diverse group of courts in size, location and geographic area. The compiled data from 64,753 juror surveys was analyzed by researchers at Seattle University and presented at a 2017 symposium focused on improving jury diversity. A video of the symposium along with the presented materials are available on the Commission’s website:

For the first time, participating courts were able to understand how the diversity of jurors in their courts correlated with the racial and ethnic diversity of the surrounding community. The researchers used U.S. Census Bureau data to determine the racial and ethnic diversity of a particular court jurisdiction. The researchers concluded that racial and ethnic minority populations are underrepresented as jurors in most jurisdictions, although there is variation among the courts. For example, in Seattle Municipal Court, individuals identifying as multiracial appeared as jurors at a higher percentage than would be expected in the overall Seattle population. A commission task force continues to work on jury diversity issues statewide, including evaluating potential changes to how jurors are sourced. The task force will make recommendations to the Washington state Supreme Court.

At Seattle Municipal Court, addressing jury diversity and racial inequity are critical priorities, and we rely on and value the input and support of our community in our work. As mentioned by the Op-Ed author, we include training on implicit bias in our juror orientation. Recognizing the potential economic impacts of jury duty, Seattle Municipal Court raised our juror stipend to $25 per day, the maximum allowed by Washington state law. We provide transportation assistance through bus tickets or reimbursement for train or water-taxi riders for each day of jury service.

Our work continues, and we are hopeful that the next time the author appears for jury duty, she experiences a jury panel and courtroom that is more representative of the diversity of our Seattle community.