The Athenian Model

redrope.gifThe USA Today reports that shirking jury duty is an worsening problem. In response, local registrars are becoming punitive:

Tulare jury candidates who fail to show are warned that they could be found in contempt of court. If they do not respond, a second letter is sent, warning that a warrant will be issued for their arrest . . .

In Danville, Ill., a 19-year-old woman was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 14 days in jail for failing to appear for jury duty.

In Topeka, no-shows have been fined up to $100 a day.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., warrants were issued recently for the arrests of 56 people who failed to go to court and explain why they couldn’t serve.

It’s a trend. A foolish one. Why are folks always reaching for sticks, when there are carrots near to hand?

Seriously, jailing citizens for failing to be civic minded is, I think, a bad way of encouraging compliance. Why not try shaming, as the Athenians did with their famous red rope?

But, backwards.

Jurors ought to be given a public reward that will encourage norms of civic engagement. Like, say, a bumper sticker (“I love my state so I served on a jury.”), a t-shirt (“I’m not too sexy for jury service”), a newspaper advertisement (“Pennsylvania salutes its jurors . . . “), or a red ribbon. Such small rewards will have the incidental positive effect of making people happier with the experience itself. Jail time, by contrast, will only reduce civic support for the jury system, and will be unlikely to be enforced at levels sufficient to really deter shirking. And, tangible rewards are better than the empty rhetoric that currently marks the legal system’s approach to the reward-punishment problem:

“Conscientious service brings its own reward in the personal satisfaction that an important task has been well done. The effectiveness of our system of justice is measured by the integrity and dedication of the jurors who serve in our courts.”

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14 Responses

  1. md says:

    Are you seriously suggesting that giving people a bumper sticker or a T-shirt with an unpopular message will encourage people to give up more of what they sincerely think is their “precious time” to engage in an unpopular activity? I think you’re probably right about jail time proving ineffective, but you’d better up the reward to make your ‘carrot’ argument credible.

  2. Bob Lawless says:

    The carrot is not the bumper sticker or t-shirt itself but the satisfaction of performing a duty that societal norms say is valuable. It’s not the medium but the message. How many of us are wearing “I voted” stickers today?

  3. Get your proof out of my pudding says:

    Case in point: If my last name were “Lawless”, I would have worked hard enough to be a law professor.

  4. Meg says:

    The city of Philadelphia, over the past few years, has been coming down harder on those who would try to shirk their duties by bringing them before a scofflaw court that requires payment of a fine – which is then used for the purchase of pastries and bagels for the jury room to benefit those who do actually show up. The city also has Juror Appreciation Week (early May).

    The problem with this, however, is the same as it is in many urban centers – those who can least afford to serve on juries (the urban poor who do not get reimbursed for the time spent away from work in most cases), are the ones these fines and jail-time sentences are affecting the most. The “reward” that you call for here doesn’t really make up for the $50-$100 each juror is losing for a full day’s work. It seems like a “poor tax” in any guise.

  5. Brian says:

    Increase juror pay. Unless you work for the government, a union shop, or a progressive private employer, you’re likely to be missing out on substantial amounts of money.

    Treating potential jurors with more respect might help as well. My most recent jury experience consisted of getting threatening letters, being herded like cattle and sitting on uncomfortable chairs or tables for hours.

  6. xoxohth says:

    Courting our favor is like wooing a fair lady. Our vanity is affronted by this shift in attention.

  7. LM says:

    Normally, I would advocate for increasing juror compensation; in fact, I have before. But I’m beginning to wonder if that type of “carrot” doesn’t provide the wrong incentive. Who says that a person who is paid more to sit on a jury than he is to go to work is going to care much, either way, what the outcome of the case is? The point is, you can’t buy civic-mindedness.

    As for people who earn more than the juror compensation: I’m not sure what typical employer practice is, but it’s conceivable that some employers *might* provide paid leave for employees who are performing jury duty. For those people, the amount of juror compensation won’t matter much either way, because they’ll be getting paid their normal wages while they perform their civic duty. I’m not sure that these people, either, would care much about the job that they are called to do. They might view jury duty as a way of getting paid leave to do (virtually) nothing. (Nothing, so far as their jobs are concerned.)

    In either case, the result is the same: people get paid to do something that they don’t care to do. Their compensation won’t guarantee faithful service.

    I think Dave is onto something with the alternative type of incentive: it shows appreciation for individual sacrifice (of time, pay, etc.). I’m not sure of the “statistics,” but I’d guess that this type of reward would be more effective in attracting the type of jurors we want: Those who are conscientious of their role as a citizen, who are actually willing to perform their public service as a juror.

  8. M. Hodak says:

    “compensation won’t guarantee faithful service”

    The point, Hollingsworth, is that lack of compensation doesn’t guarantee faithful service, either. For the rest of us with actual economic trade-offs to make in our lives, the prospect of serving on a jury, even in a civic-minded way, becomes much more enticing if we aren’t financially penalized for doing so. If we can pay the bored clerk processing jury forms $100 a day as part of the cost of our justice system, why can’t we pay jurors? I’d rather that than some “I served on a jury and all I got was this stupid t-shirt” award.

  9. LM says:

    Perhaps you’ve misinterpreted what I wrote. I questioned whether raising juror compensation was the most viable option; I did not say that we ought to extinguish the practice of juror compensation altogether.

    My comment was in response to another commenter’s suggestion that juror compensation ought to be raised. I agree with you that jurors should be compensated for their time, but my point (which I thought was clear) was that money should not be the only incentive.

    I appreciate your assumption that I have more wealth than I know what to do with, but I assure you that your (snarky) “Hollingsworth” reference is a severe misattribution of the truth. You know what they say about making assumptions…

  10. M. Hodak says:

    I was writing from my own experience regarding juror “compensation” which, where I live, is $6 a day. I hope that, whatever your economic status, we can agree that a rate that barely covers bus fare can be fairly counted as no compensation at all.

  11. Ife says:

    Though I’ve always considered Jury duty just “one of those things” that citizens have to do as part of their civic duty, I must admit that I’ve been singing a different tune lately. In less than a year, my husband has been called twice. (One is scheduled for the beginning of next year, since in Michigan at least,they can’t call you more than once in a year) He gets so upset about it, and my usual reaction is to just try and calm him down and try and make him think of it as “just one of those things”. But y’know what? It’s not. His employer doesn’t compensate for time lost since he works on commision, and every day lost is a day we can not afford. I don’t know how bumper stickers would make him feel better about it, but getting paid a fair wage for his time by the government might help. Until then, he’ll keep trying to find (legal) ways to get out of it, civic duty or no.

  12. LM says:

    M. Hodak,

    I agree that $6.00/day is abyssmal, and in that case, an increase in compensation would certainly be justified.

    I was working off of the assumption that juror compensation would amount to roughly $40-50/day. In those jurisdictions, I think I would still say that people who earn the same amount of money at work* as they receive for juror compensation would just as readily take jury duty so that they can (essentially) be paid to not work.

    *Assume, for example, that someone earns $6.50/hour. They’d have to work about 6 hours to earn $40, or over 7.5 hours to earn $50. For people earning the federal minimum wage ($5.15/hour), they’d have to work even longer to earn the same amount of money that they would otherwise receive as compensation for jury duty. Given those options, I’d probably opt for jury duty, too.

    Here’s an interesting website which purports to list up-to-date juror compensation on a state-by-state basis. I’m not sure how accurate it is…

  13. Conrad Erb says:

    $50? Surely our justice system is more valuable than that.

    If we could find the money, maybe we could make it $500/day. Make it so appealing that Joe and Jill Citizen approach their mailbox with reverence, anticipating the pink/yellow/blue paper. Surely society can find a way to make participation in its civil justice system better than something to be endured or tolerated.

  14. nico says:

    I think this whole jury duty thing is bs…im mad as hell i get my summons during finals …when they want me to work is my bust time at work which means i loose more money to obey some damn law plus the pay dosent even cover the amount of money it will take me to get out there and did i mention they want me to go in the fing getho so, great i get to mugged waiting for the bus for this bs..ok and do senators and other law makers serve as jurors!

    mad angry working class student!