A new interim report from a judicial branch pandemic workgroup recommends expanding the number and diversity of people able to fulfill jury service by increasing juror pay, adjusting reporting times, and providing remote options.
“One of the silver linings emerging from the trial courts’ response to the pandemic is looking with fresh eyes at ways to improve the juror experience,” said Justice Marsha Slough, chair of the pandemic workgroup. “We’ve been able to reimagine ways for people to participate in jury duty that might not have been thought possible a few years ago. Providing Californians with opportunities to participate online helps clear obstacles and enables them to participate in the fundamental civic responsibility of jury duty.”
In crafting its recommendations, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye’s Ad Hoc Workgroup on Post-Pandemic Initiatives heard from judicial officers, court executives, criminal and civil attorneys, and court staff. The workgroup asked these groups to comment on juror selection practices adopted during the pandemic via changes in jury management and operations, while maintaining the health and safety of court users, judicial officers, staff, and particularly prospective and sworn jurors.
Based on those comments, the workgroup report recommends to:
- Raise juror pay and travel reimbursement to reduce financial hardships and improve options for getting to the courthouse
- Allow jurors to complete juror questionnaires and hardship forms online before being required to physically appear in court for voir dire
- Stagger jury service appearance times with varying panel sizes in order to maximize efficiency for court staff and the summoned jurors
- Develop tools for courts to conduct voir dire remotely, which helps streamline the juror selection process and gather information related to for-cause and peremptory challenges
We’ve been able to reimagine ways for people to participate in jury duty that might not have been thought possible a few years ago. — Justice Marsha Slough
Pandemic Makes Fulfilling Jury Service Even Tougher
The workgroup’s report notes the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many new and existing barriers to jury service, especially for low-income and unhoused individuals, communities of color, seniors, the disabled, parents of young children, those without access to reasonable transportation, and other vulnerable, underserved, or underrepresented populations.
The workgroup explains its recommendations could help expand access to jury service and increase the diversity of jurors able to serve, resulting in better jury deliberations, fewer hung juries, and greater public confidence in the justice system.
The pandemic workgroup will coordinate its efforts to improve juror systems with the Judicial Council’s recently established Jury Administration and Management subcommittee, which consists of members from the council’s Court Executives Advisory Committee. The subcommittee will review jury operations, identify best practices, and make recommendations on potential reforms and other post-pandemic issues.