Citing democratic principles, the suit seeks injunctive relief requiring King County to pay a minimum hourly wage to people who perform jury service and aren’t compensated by their employer.
A lawsuit was filed against King County Monday alleging its $10-per-day expense payment to jurors leads to the disproportional exclusion of the poor and minorities excused for economic hardship because their employers don’t compensate them for jury duty.
The suit, brought by three plaintiffs but which seeks class-action status for other affected people, was filed in Pierce County Superior Court to avoid a conflict of interest in King County’s courts, said Toby Marshall, one of the attorneys who filed the complaint.
The suit says King County’s $10 daily payment for mileage or travel costs hasn’t changed since 1959, and that jurors who hear cases in Superior and District courts without being compensated by their employers are entitled to be paid at “no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.”
The suit seeks preliminary and injunctive relief, requiring King County to pay a minimum hourly wage to people who perform jury service and aren’t compensated by their employer.
It also seeks unspecified monetary damages for one plaintiff, Catherine Selin, and others who served without compensation from their employers.
Susan Craighead, presiding judge of the King County Superior Court, said Monday she couldn’t comment on the merits of the suit. But she noted the $10 sum paid by the county is specified under state law and is the same as in other counties.
That per-day amount is the minimum under state law, which says jurors may receive up to $25 but no less than $10.
At present, juries tend to be composed of people with moderate or high incomes — often who work for Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing — who might not understand the backgrounds of many criminal defendants and civil litigants who have their “fates decided by people who don’t look like them,” Marshall said.
In particular, minorities and the poor represent a disproportionate number of those who come before King County’s courts in criminal cases, he said.
The current pay model means the poor and people of color, who face disproportional issues of income inequality and financial instability, are kept from participating in a vital democratic function, according to the suit.
“Juries should be drawn from a fair cross-section of the community,” Marshall said in a prepared statement. “A jury system that excludes certain segments of society is unfair and undemocratic.”
Or as in the case of Selin, who last year performed 11 days of jury service without compensation by her employer, jurors aren’t paid the minimum wage they should receive, the suit says
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Jeffrey Needle, another attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in the statement that jurors shouldn’t be treated any differently than citizens who don’t have to give up their incomes to vote.
The two other plaintiffs, Ryan Rocha, who is black, and Nicole Bednarczyk — both of whom are of low economic status and work for employers who wouldn’t compensate them — would be forced to request financial-hardship exemptions if summoned for jury duty, despite their desire to participate, according to the suit.
Bednarczyk previously has been excused for that reason, the suit says.
In the suit and their statement, the attorneys note a state commission created in 1999, which included judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court administrators and legislators from throughout Washington, recommended after a year of study that special efforts should be made to increase jury participation by sectors of society that traditionally haven’t fully participated, particularly young people and minority communities.
The commission gave the “highest priority” to increasing compensation for jurors, deeming it “unacceptable that this state’s citizens are required to perform one of the most important civic duties at a rate that does not remotely approach minimum wage,” according to the statement.