- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - A newly signed law that’ll more than double what Illinois jurors are paid while reducing the size of civil case juries is earning mixed reviews from criminal justice experts.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the measure Friday that backers say could lead to more diverse juries and offset anticipated costs by cutting back jurors in all civil cases from 12 to 6. But some counties are concerned about picking up the tab and researchers and advocacy groups believe smaller juries mean less impartial verdicts.

To the measure’s sponsor - who was lobbied by the former Illinois Trial Lawyers Association president - raising juror stipends is a simple equation.

Illinois currently hovers near the bottom of U.S. states when it comes to state-set rates, though it varies by county - between $4 and $10 a day, more in some places. Plus, state law doesn’t require employers to pay wages during jury duty. The new law, which takes effect in June, moves Illinois closer to other states by raising it to $25 the first day and $50 after.

Few other states are as stingy: South Carolina jurors get a $2 daily minimum in civil cases and some - Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example- don’t pay the initial day, according to the National Center for State Courts.

“It is a civic duty, but you are inconveniencing people,” said state Rep. Kelly Burke, an Evergreen Park Democrat co-sponsoring the plan. “It’s more than an inconvenience for some people, it’s a hardship.”

Shannon Welling of Chicago served on a jury for a nearly two-week medical malpractice case this year. The 33-year-old said her employer continued to pay wages. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much left from the daily $17.20 Cook County offers after commuting.

“You keep getting told, ‘It’s your civic duty. P.S. Here’s 17 bucks, good luck!’” she said. “I’m lucky that I’m salaried … That was solely the way I was able to survive.”

States don’t often take up jury pay, especially during tough economic times. California raised its rate in 2000, the first time since 1957; jurors now get $15 on the second day of service, up from $5.

Fair-jury advocates say more money helps ensure juries are reflective of the wider population. Those who’ll have trouble taking time to serve - like an hourly worker whose employer won’t pay them - will be less likely to ask for an excusal if the payment is larger. The Fully Informed Jury Association advocacy group notes the issue can disproportionately affect minorities.

Quinn, who has less than a month in office before Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes over, said through a spokesman that he signed the law to ease “the financial burden of jury duty,” and noted many states have smaller juries. Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman didn’t respond further.

While it varies by court type, more than half of U.S. states require six jurors in civil cases, according to NCSC. The rest mostly stick with 12 or eight. Currently, Illinois allows six in some types of cases.

Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia who’s written a juror handbook, points to research suggesting how big personalities are more likely to dominate on small juries.

“They make more inconsistent verdicts,” Ferguson said, unlike larger juries where, “there are more voices and more people involved.”

Personal injury attorney Joseph Power, who lobbied Illinois lawmakers for the proposal, doesn’t buy that argument. The former lawyers’ association president said the main motivator was how economic hardship might weed out potential jurors.

“I’m not getting a representative jury,” Power said.

County officials, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, support the increase but say they’re disappointed the proposal doesn’t address cost and worry how they’ll make up for it. Officials estimate the plan could bump Cook County’s juror allotment from roughly $3.1 million to $4.9 million.

Meanwhile, backers say fewer jurors will save Illinois money, and add that other states have found ways to pay more. New Mexico pays jurors a $6.25 hourly rate and some states reimburse child care.

“This is an investment in justice,” NCSC analyst Gregory Hurley said.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.


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