- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - As New Mexico continues to struggle with a budget shortfall, officials say the state is running out of funds to pay jurors.

Officials say the state could run out of money to pay jurors by March, meaning jury members who serve after that may have to wait to be paid until after July 1, when a new budget year begins, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://bit.ly/2heAweO).

Administrative Office of the Courts Director Arthur Pepin recently asked the state Board of Finance for about $800,000 in emergency funding for court operations. The board denied his request, telling him to ask the Legislature for the money and to request it again in February if that fails.

Pepin says he worries the low pay rates for jurors combined with the threat of late payment could change the makeup of juries.

“It may encourage (potential jurors) to be more vigorous in finding reasons why they aren’t eligible to serve,” Pepin said. “If that happens, it skews the jury toward people who can afford to serve.”

In some states, businesses are required to pay employees who miss work for jury service, but in New Mexico the state compensates jurors at a rate lower than minimum wage.

Pepin said to stay within available funding levels, jurors should be paid about $4 per hour. But he has held off dropping pay quite that low and decided to pay them $6.25 an hour in the coming year, down from $6.75 per hour last year. The statewide minimum wage is $7.50.

Pepin said the low pay rates encourage people to make excuses to get out of jury services.

“People are creative, and if they are going to lose $2 to $3 per hour or more and have to wait to get paid, and they are paycheck to paycheck, I would think the incentive to get out of jury service would be pretty high,” Pepin said.

Morgan Wood, who oversees the Santa Fe Public Defender’s Office, said fulfilling one’s civic duty still matters to potential jurors, regardless of the pay.

“People don’t come and do jury duty because of the money,” Wood said. “They come because it’s their duty. Honestly, I don’t think a couple of dollars difference is going to make a difference in the makeup of the jury.”

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com


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