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Jury Duty on Trial : Remedies for L.A. County system's many problems are being weighed by an official panel

November 16, 1994

The courthouse telephones don't always work, or they're endlessly busy. The jurors' waiting room is so crowded that some spend the day sitting on the floor. The elevators are slow and the heating system erratic.

Jury service in Los Angeles County too often is onerous and unpleasant. Citizens who arrive at the courthouse eager to "do justice" quickly find that the experience is short of the ideal. Service is long, 10 days generally, while some surrounding counties ask prospective jurors to serve only one day or on one trial. Those called in Los Angeles County typically do more waiting around and standing in line than anything else.

Little wonder, then, that many area residents don't leap at the opportunity to serve. The county is now faced with a high demand for jurors but a low number of people qualified and willing to serve. Last year, the superior and municipal courts had to mail out about 4 million jury affidavits to impanel slightly more than 187,500 jurors.

These problems have, if anything, been exacerbated by the spotlight on local courts recently in several highly publicized trials. Budget cuts, swelling criminal caseloads due to enforcement of the state's new "three strikes" law and the general deterioration of court facilities have not helped either.

The county's Economy and Efficiency Commission is now completing work on 45 draft recommendations for improvements, which will be considered for formal adoption next month. The suggestions include shortening the term of service, simplifying the existing two-step summons procedure, upgrading courthouse facilities and juror amenities and raising juror compensation from the current rate of $5 per day. However, coming up with ideas for improvement is relatively easy; coming up with the money to implement them is something else.

None of the suggestions are controversial, and many are not new. (Los Angeles County tried a term of five days or one trial term in 1992 but considered the experiment unsuccessful, even though this and even shorter terms have worked well elsewhere.) The courts should look closely at these sensible proposals. And the Board of Supervisors should look hard for the necessary funds.

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