Crooks to Foot the Bill for New Juror Pay Raise

Citizens who report to jury duty today here in the Houston-area will be some fo the first in line for a juror pay raise that took effect earlier this week. The pay hike is the first in more than 50 years, with convicted criminals footing the bill.

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Jurors who are picked to serve on a panel will now be paid $40 a day, up from $6 a day rate that's been in effect since 1954. The increased pay is the result of Senate Bill 1704, authored by State Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston. "When that law first passed many years ago, $6 a day was a lot of money. Now, $6 won't pay for parking and it has led to a lot of middle class and lower-income people refusing to do jury service, which is an important part of our judicial system," he says.

In fact, research done by law firm Vinson and Elkins showed only 18-percent of people called for jury duty in Houston and Dallas actually show up, with the numbers even worse in minority communties. Ellis says increased juror pay should improve those numbers. "I hope that it will increase it, and it not, we're going to go back to the drawing table and see what else can be done because we do run the risk of having a court challenge, and probably someone prevailing, saying that our current jury system is unconstitutional if we don't have broader representation from all groups in our society, particularly our minorities," he says.

The new law charges fees to convicted criminals, money that will then go into a state juror pay fund. "A fee will be added on to any criminal case that comes up and that money will go into a fund and be dispursed to the counties to reimburse the counties for the additional amount of money they'll have to shell-out for jury service pay," says Ellis.

Harris County District Clerk Charles Bacarisse will collect the fee, but says it won't be easy. "It's going to be a challenge for us to collect the fee that will make up the difference between the $6 and the $40. Counties have to apply to the state to get reimbursed so I think over the long run the county is going to be out of pocket a little bit more than we currently spend on jurors, but if we do a good job of collecting it won't be a big impact," he says.

Bacarisse says not everyone will get the $40, only citizens who are actually picked to serve on a jury.

Some states pay up to $50 a day for jury service, but with the pay raise in Texas, the state no longer is one of the worst when it comes to compensating jurors.

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