Nov 15, 2023 - News

Jury pay in Minnesota could get a boost from $20 a day

Illustration of a pattern of gavels.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

I was on jury duty for Hennepin County last week. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience, and I didn't even make it past voir dire.

Why it matters: For me, serving was part of my civic duty and only a slight inconvenience, since I'm a salaried employee. But for some of the other jurors it significantly disrupted their lives and cost them a week or more of income.

What's happening: I was on a jury panel with a gig worker, whose main source of income is waiting tables. She couldn't collect tips or work her two other gigs.

  • Plus, she was pregnant and told the judge several more days on a jury would hamper her ability to save up for when her child arrived.
  • She was eventually dismissed from the trial.

State of play: Minnesota's jury per diems are set by the state's Supreme Court, which doubled them in 2016 to $20 a day. It also raised the per-mile reimbursement from 27 to 54 cents.

Yes, but: That was seven years ago, before rapidly rising inflation. With a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, $20 a day is about $100 short of what the lowest-paid workers make in an eight-hour shift.

  • And the Hennepin and Ramsey County courthouses are in downtowns where parking isn't free.
  • In Minneapolis, for example, the going rate for a ramp near the government center is $10 a day, though clever commuters know where to find cheaper surface lots.
  • Metro Transit offers complimentary rides for jurors to the two downtown courthouses, but not everyone lives near a transit line.

Zoom out: Minnesota is about average when it comes to juror per diems, according to an April 2022 report by the National Center for State Courts.

  • But since that report was published, several states have raised their compensation. Indiana tops out at $90 a day and North Dakota pays $100.
  • Some states, like Illinois, set a minimum and then give county courts the power to go higher. Illinois' minimum is $4 a day, but Cook County (Chicago) pays $35.

The latest: Minnesota Judicial Branch spokesperson Kim Pleticha said a workgroup plans to make a jury compensation recommendation "very soon," but noted that any increase would depend upon an allocation by the state Legislature.

What they're saying: Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) authored a bill last session that would have provided $2.6 million annually to raise jury per diems to $50 a day, but it never made it into the Senate omnibus bill.

  • Becker-Finn said she or someone else will continue to carry such a bill until it passes because it's a matter of fairness.
  • Some people, she added, are taking pay cuts to sit on a jury, which isn't fair. And when those jurors try to get out of duty for financial hardship reasons, it makes juries less representative.
  • "You're disproportionately having lower-income folks not really financially able to serve on juries."

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