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Will a Significant Pay Raise Make Texas Jurors Show Up?

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that will increase the minimum payment for the first day of jury duty from $6 to $20. But 75 percent of people in Dallas County who receive a jury summons throw it away, ignore it or otherwise skip showing up.

About 3 out of 4 people in Dallas County, Texas, who receive that dreaded piece of mail known as the jury summons toss it in the trash, ignore it or otherwise skip going to the courthouse.

But hopefully a new state law that went into effect this month will help improve this dismal state of affairs.

House Bill 3474 signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott more than triples the minimum payment for the first day of jury duty from $6 to $20. That’s significant because most people are discharged after the first day when they’re not selected or cases get settled.

If someone must serve longer than that, the new law also increases pay for each subsequent day of service from $40 to $58, a more than 40 percent increase.

Finally, jurors will be paid enough to cover the price of parking and get a sandwich from the courthouse cafeteria as they spend all day waiting to be sent to their assigned courts and sitting through a lengthy voir dire on hard wooden benches.

HB 3474 is a lengthy omnibus bill authored by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R- Plano. The 131-page act makes hundreds of changes to previous laws, all intended to make the justice system run more efficiently. Among the most significant changes is creation of 12 new district courts statewide, including ones in Collin and Denton counties.

But we’re especially pleased to see the increase in juror pay embedded deep within the act.

Prospective jurors are often taking precious time off from work. And while state law forbids employers from firing those called to jury duty, they’re not required to pay them. Juror compensation isn’t intended to cover lost wages, but it’s long been insufficient to reimburse jurors for the costs associated with getting to the courthouse and staying there all day.

Understandably, for years Dallas County has struggled with no-shows, mostly from people who can’t miss work. County officials have experimented with different remedies — from threatening to crack down on violators by fining or arresting them, to trying to make responding to the jury summons much easier.

Their efforts seem to have paid off ever so slightly. Ten years ago the compliance rate was 20 percent. State district Judge Stephanie Huff, who serves as local administrative district judge, tells us that has crept up to 23.5 percent. She hopes the increased pay will help even more.

“It’s important to acknowledge the time they take out of their day to day lives to perform this civic duty,” she said.

We agree. A 2022 study by the National Center for State Courts found that the average juror pay for the first day of service nationwide was $16.61. Texas now surpasses that. We hope that means fewer of those jury summonses will end up in the trash.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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