A notice to appear for jury duty is not always the most welcome piece of mail to arrive on a person’s doorstep. Just appearing for the jury questioning is difficult for some and to be selected to a jury is a hassle many Vermilion County residents usually hope to avoid.
All in all, court officials face a daily and difficult task in convincing the general public that jury duty is part of their civic responsibility.
“Under the Constitution and the laws of the State of Illinois, we have to have jurors available to hear and decide cases in our county courts,” said Vermilion County Circuit Court Chief Judge Michael Clary. “All the judges know that it is a great inconvenience for those summoned as jurors to give up their employment and their usual pursuits to be available for jury duty for two weeks.”
To help residents accept their civic duty, circuit courts are mandated to pay potential jurors. In Vermilion County, Jury Commission Coordinator Joyce Alberich said the payment is $10 per day as well as 20 cents per mile in travel expenses for each juror.
That can add up quickly. Alberich estimated that as many as 150 residents are summoned every other week for potential jury trial. She said up to 125 residents will usually show up, with the other 25 having medical excuses or no longer living in Vermilion County.
A person does not only receive a check if they are selected to a jury. The $10 per day as well as mileage is doled out to anyone who must come in to the courthouse for the jury selection process, even if that process doesn’t move forward.
“If it’s 5 minutes and they’re released, we pay them,” Clary said of the jury pool. “It’s a cost of our doing business that we just have to bear to guarantee we comply with due process requirements.”
Providing jury trials in both criminal and civil cases is becoming an increasingly expensive task for the Vermilion County Circuit Court. Budget numbers for county fiscal year 2008-09 show that $55,066 was spent on paying jurors.
That figure jumped in the following fiscal year, with $70,610 spent in 2009-10 fiscal year. The budget expense figure for the 2010-11 fiscal year currently stands at $68,237, but that figure must be confirmed by the county’s annual audit by Clifton Gunderson before it is considered a final total.
For the current budget year, $99,000 has been earmarked for jurors. That total has been used as an initial budget expense figure in each of the prior two fiscal years.
Clary theorized the increase could be as a result of the defendants in criminal and civil cases.
“Apparently, more people maybe indicated they wanted to go to trial,” he said of the increase. “We have to be able to accommodate them.”
Alberich noted she has seen defendants in criminal cases wait until residents have been called in for jury selection before opting for a plea agreement.
That decision making costs money and Vermilion County Circuit Court statistics tend to bear that situation out.
According to 2010 figures released by the Illinois Courts’ annual statistics report, 710 defendants were charged in 2010 with 447 convicted of a crime.
However, in 2010 only eight went through the process of a jury trial. More than 430 other defendants reached a plea agreement in their respective cases.
On the civil case side, two lawsuits — one filed seeking a total under $50,000 and one filed seeking more than $50,000 — were disposed of with a jury trial. The remaining 986 cases, according to state court figures, were eliminated without a jury.
On the criminal side, jury trials can take as long as 10 days, including paring down the pool of 125 people during jury selection at the beginning, and going through jury deliberation at the end. Lawsuits can vary greatly from case to case, with Alberich noting malpractice suits can bring jurors in every day for a week or two.
“It’s expensive to call them in,” she said.
According to the 2009 Rules of Practice for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, if a jury trial cannot go forward, the court has the power to assess all or part of the costs of bringing in the panel of prospective jurors against the counsel or parties responsible.
According to Clary, the court system relies on the “good graces and cooperation” of residents — even if being summoned for jury duty isn’t well-liked among many.
“We work very hard to limit the inconvenience as much as possible,” he added.