Friday, January 23, 2009

Incentivize Jury Duty

Sixty of my fellow citizens and I were called in for jury duty to Phoenix Municipal Court at eight in the morning. There were seven cases on the docket, all misdemeanors. Misdemeanor cases require only 6 jurors and 1 alternate, so 49 jurists were required if they all went to trial. Fortunately, there is a monitor that shows the number of cases remaining. All morning long, as we sat there reading books and watching a movie they put on, we watched the number tick down. By lunch time, there were just two cases remaining. The other five cases must have been settled, dropped, or delayed. So they let half the people go. The other thirty of us stayed until 3:30 pm, by which time there was just one case remaining and would be doing jury selection the next day. We were all happy to get out of there, but disappointed the government had wasted our time.

This would never have occurred in a private legal system. In a private system, jurists would demand payment for their time. Sixty people times eight hours is four hundred eighty hours. The average hourly wage in Arizona is about $18/hour, not including benefits. The government wasted $8,640 of our time, which a private system would have to reimburse.

In our current system, a set number of people are called in for jury duty each day. The evening before, you call in and check if you are excused or have to appear. The number of people told to appear is based on the number of cases on the docket. When a case is scheduled, the judge, lawyers, and defendant meet in the morning and go through motions. Oftentimes, a settlement is reached that morning. A case scheduled for Monday morning will rarely go to trial before the afternoon. Why can't the lawyers meet Monday morning or even afternoon and then jury selection can begin Tuesday morning if needed? Only call in jurists based on the number of cases going to trial, not just on the docket.

Lawyers and judges will not like this solution. If the lawyers decide to go to trial right away, they want to be able to choose jurors immediately. If they finish settlement talks on Monday but have to wait until the next day for the trial to begin, they will have nothing to do the rest of the day. For them, time is money. And as long as jurists' time is not worth anything, the government has no incentive to stop wasting its citizens' time.