California Bar Journal
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The public and their courts
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For many individuals, jury service provides their sole direct exposure to the court system. In my visits to the trial courts in the 58 counties, I frequently encountered woefully inadequate jury facilities.

Add poor facilities together with grossly inadequate compensation, the meager sum of $5 a day, the lowest in the nation; the lack of information provided to prospective jurors; lengthy waiting periods, often for no apparent reason, and you have a recipe for frustration and indignation.

Jury service is often described as one of the great rights, and one of the fundamental obligations, of our citizens. Over the years, excluded groups and classes - women, racial minorities, disabled individuals - have ardently sought inclusion in the jury pool.

We owe them, and every citizen, a system that honors and recognizes their fulfillment of this important duty and provides litigants with a representative cross-section of the community.

Chief Justice Ronald GeorgeThis year, the budget included funding that would have begun to address some of the juror compensation issues, but the money was blue-penciled by the governor. We will try again next year and continue to do so until we see success.

A bill implementing a one day-one trial jury requirement met with a happier fate. Unless a court can establish the need for an exemption, all courts in the state are required to adopt a plan under which jurors need appear at the courthouse for one day.

At the end of the day, they will be discharged unless they have been summoned to a trial court, in which event they are to serve for the duration of the trial. In either event, their obligation is satisfied for a year.

This clearly is superior to the system in most counties that requires jurors to appear day after day for up to 10 days, or, even if not required to appear physically, mandates that an individual stay on call for a week or two.

Additionally, I have appointed a taskforce to translate criminal and civil jury instructions into more understandable layman's language while still remaining faithful to the requirements of the law.

These measures all should have a beneficial effect on the public and its perception of the courts.

The chief justice delivered these remarks on jury service as part of his "State of the Judiciary Address" at the State Bar's annual meeting in Monterey last month.