Some companies in King County are concerned they are being taken advantage of because of their generosity in providing full pay for employees called for jury duty.
They say it appears their employees are picked more frequently than others.
The county may seek legislation to equalize the situation.
Some employers with full-pay policies have questioned how jurors are selected, and wonder if they are being unfairly burdened by the district, municipal and federal courts.
The answer is both yes and no, said Dale Ramerman, presiding judge of King County Superior Court.
Potential jurors are selected at random from lists of registered voters and driver’s licenses. No particular person or business is targeted to serve.
Still, there is the disparity between those whose companies continue pay and hourly workers who generally have to forego pay and get only the $10-per-day jury stipend.
“We have a high rate of no-shows, and those companies who pay their employees end up carrying a bigger burden,” Ramerman said. “That’s a concern of mine.”
With the average King County resident earning $29,000 annually, the estimated cost to employers for jury duty so far this year would be about $3 million if each of the 13,400 people who showed up at the courthouse stayed for the minimum of two days.
To ease the burden on those companies, Ramerman wants to propose state legislation requiring employers to pay for up to 10 days of jury duty each year.
Some states require employers over a certain size to pay employees during jury duty, or at least for the first three days.
But proposals like Ramerman’s aren’t especially popular with lawmakers.
“Mandating employees to do something is not something legislators like to do,” said Tom Munsterman, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts in Arlington, Va.
“It’s very hard for day laborers and domestics to get compensation. If those people are getting off, it concentrates jury duty on those who are paying.”
Big employers such as Boeing and Starbucks pay employees for jury duty. So do the federal, state and local governments.
As a result, a typical King County jury usually includes a couple of Boeing workers, a telephone company employee, a few retired people and a couple of teachers, Ramerman said.
Hourly workers are conspicuously absent, and Ramerman said that translates to a lack of people from the lower end of the economic scale.
By law, someone who doesn’t respond to a summons can be brought before a judge to offer an explanation and be compelled to serve.
But Ramerman said no one goes after the scofflaws and there is no punishment.
As a result, 22 percent of people who received a summons from Jan. 9 to June 23 did not respond, court records show. Only 14 percent actually showed up at the appropriate time.
According to Bob Percini, jury coordinator for the King County Superior Court, many people call in to say they would be happy to serve on a jury but can’t afford to take time off work.
Excuses other people have given range from child-care problems to military duty to faulty dentures.
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