Clemmons case lawyers ask for more pay for jury
ADAM LYNN; Staff writer
Should the Pierce County residents chosen to decide whether a man is guilty of the state’s highest crime get paid more than $10 per day while on jury duty?
The lawyers representing cop killer Maurice Clemmons’ alleged getaway driver think so.
They’ve asked Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming to order the county to boost the compensation for jurors seated to hear Dorcus Allen’s trial.
Mary K. High and Peter Mazzone want jurors with jobs paid their existing wages if their employer won’t pay them while they’re on jury duty. Those not employed should get the state’s minimum wage of $8.27 per hour, High and Mazzone wrote in a recently filed pleading.
The defense attorneys also want the county to foot the bill for child care expenses for jurors.
The current rate of jury compensation in Pierce County – $10 per day plus mileage – is unfair to Allen because it tends to exclude working-class and poor people from juries, High and Mazzone contend.
Those with low-paying or part-time jobs often aren’t paid while on jury duty, which causes them financial hardships that often get them excused, the attorneys wrote.
“The systematic under-compensation of jurors operates to deny Mr. Allen his fundamental constitutional rights – in particular the right to an impartial jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community as guaranteed by the Sixth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the lawyers wrote.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant’s rights to a speedy, public trial before an impartial jury. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law and due-process rights.
They also argue that people losing money while on jury duty would be so worried about their financial situation that they might not pay enough attention in court.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said this week that he’s not against extra pay for jurors but thinks High and Mazzone have chosen the wrong venue to make the argument.
The Legislature sets the amount people receive for jury duty, not Superior Court judges, Lindquist said.
“It’s a creative idea, but it’s gamesmanship,” he said. “Their motion is frivolous.”
Fleming is expected to rule on the request Tuesday, when jury selection begins for Allen’s trial.
Allen, 39, is charged as an accomplice with four counts each of aggravated first-degree murder and second-degree murder in the Nov. 29, 2009, deaths of Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Gregory Richards and Ronald Owens.
Prosecutors allege Allen – knowing what Clemmons planned to do – drove him to and from the vicinity of a Parkland coffee shop where he attacked the officers.
Allen has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers wrote in court records filed earlier this year that he had no idea what Clemmons intended that Sunday morning.
Clemmons was the subject of an intense manhunt until killed Dec. 1, 2009, by a Seattle police officer.
Fleming has summoned in an extra-large pool of potential jurors from which to draw a panel of 12 and up to four alternates. The trial is expected to last six weeks or more.
Allen faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, the state’s highest crime.
The topic of increasing juror compensation is not new in Washington.
In 2000, the state Jury Commission identified increased pay as the top jury reform needed in the state.
The Legislature set the $10-per-day rate in 1959.
Based on the commission’s recommendations, in 2006 lawmakers authorized $569,000 to fund a research project on juror pay. They added $325,000 for the project in 2007.
State court officials designed a pilot project in Superior and District courts in Clark County; Superior, District and Pasco Municipal courts in Franklin County; and Des Moines Municipal Court in King County.
Jury compensation was raised from $10 to $60 per day.
Researchers wanted to find out if raising jury pay increased participation from citizens, some of whom contend jury duty is a financial hardship, and whether it broadened the diversity – both ethnic and socioeconomic – of jury pools.
“Jurors who earn more are more likely to be paid by their employer to serve while on jury duty, meaning that those least able to afford jury duty are hit the hardest when they do serve,” according to a 2008 follow-up report on the project.
The study found increased pay did little to increase participation or to diversify jury pools, the follow-up report concluded.
“Increased pay is noticed and appreciated by those who serve,” the study found. “Expanded public awareness efforts may enhance the impact of increased juror pay.”
Courts across the nation also wrangle with juror compensation, said Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center of Jury Studies in Williamsburg, Va.
Jury pay was conceived as a way to compensate citizens for costs incurred while serving – such as parking fees and meals – not to replace income, Hannaford-Agor said.
Some states have been rethinking that concept, especially for jurors asked to serve on lengthy trials, she said.
“Most people can’t live on $10 a day for a half-month,” Hannaford-Agor said. “It’s not going to buy their groceries. It’s not going to pay the rent. It’s not going to pay the American Express bill when it comes due.”
Many states have a graduated payment system, she said, with people chosen to serve on lengthy trials getting more money. In many cases, that can be up to $50 per day.
Arizona has a “lengthy trial fund” that compensates jurors up to $300 per day for long trials, Hannaford-Agor said. It funds the system with a surcharge on civil filings.
New Mexico pays its jurors minimum wage, which is $7.50 an hour there, she added.
But increasing the amount paid to jurors can be a tough sell during these economic times, Hannaford-Agor said.
“This isn’t the economic climate for talking about increasing anything,” she said.
Last year, Pierce County shelled out just more than $1 million to compensate jurors who fulfilled their civic duty in Superior and District courts and Tacoma Municipal Court, said Andra Motyka, Superior Court administrator.
There is nearly $1.2 million budgeted for this year, Motyka said.
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/crime