Jury Duty for 4 weeks?
March 2, 2008 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Jury Duty: I want to fulfill my civic duty and don't want to shirk but...4 week federal jury trial? $40 a day? What gives? I'm self employed and care for my child 2 days a week so my wife can work. Should I ask for a hardship exemption, or is that shirking?

The summons states that its for a 4 week jury trial starting in April, it's Federal District Court. They pay $40 a day. $40 a day? I couldn't find a babysitter for half the day at that amount.

I have a few questions/concerns. If this is for a criminal trial, fine. That's important. I'd be more willing to sacrifice. If this is BIG CORPORATION Inc. VS. Bigger Corporation Inc. Why am I sacrificing for two wealthy entities to duke it out using many wealthy minions to fight their battles? Why not make parties in civil trials pay reasonable jury expenses?

I'd love to hear what you would do in my case: I am self employed, if I don't work, I don't earn money. My wife is self employed. If I am in a jury all day and she is home with our son, she isn't working and she isn't earning money either. A month of the year on maybe $800? Do you think that is a reasonable hardship to request an excuse from jury duty?

And lastly, yes, I know that my statistical chances are slim that I'll get seated, but if I am, it's a huge impact on my family. Is this the same as everyone else and shoud I just suck it up? Or should I state my case and hope they agree?
posted by johngalt to Law & Government (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am self-employed, and I also am (much of the time) a caregiver for my disabled partner. I can very easily relate to your situation.

I was called for local jury duty the year before last. I was not chosen for a jury panel, and our group was dismissed before noon. I had to "call in" daily for the rest of the week to see if they wanted me to come for another jury-selection opportunity. They didn't need me, so I didn't have to serve.

By contrast, when I was employed by a company some years ago, I still received my pay when I served on a jury. At that time I did not have a disabled dependent, either, and I regarded the jury experience as a fascinating chance to see how the system worked.

If I were faced with your choice, I would have no hesitation at all in asking for an exemption instead of sitting for a 4-week jury trial. You are facing a real hardship, not just a financial one but one which affects your child. Your needs are typical of the ones that required our system to allow for hardship exemptions. You should not feel bad about this in any way, shape, or form.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2008

You have not been chosen to sit on the jury yet; trust me, the lawyers wouldn't let you on the jury without talking to you first. So, you're likely to experience the same thing that Robert Angelo did - you'll go once, get some instructions, and then call in to check. At that time, you could explain it to whoever is in charge.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:00 PM on March 2, 2008

The reason they have a hardship exemption is for folks for whom serving would be a hardship -- like you. Request your exemption with a clear conscience.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:08 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was called, once you got picked to possibly serve, the judge asked each person if there was any reason why they did not want to serve. There were several people in similar situations to yours and the judge immediately dismissed them. They also gave each prospective juror the opportunity to speak to the Judge & Lawyers in private if necessary. Go to selection, in the off chance you get picked and interviewed, tell the truth.

YMMV, etc...
posted by stew560 at 7:09 PM on March 2, 2008

Tell the judge the truth, he'll/she'll let you know if you are shirking duty, trust me. You're duty in this situation is to be honest, this is quite a long trial and you have a lot of valid commitments. Just tell the truth and don't exaggerate, in my opinion that is the moral and civicly minded thing to do. Whether you get off will probably depend on how good a juror you'll make and how hard of a time they are having picking the jury.
posted by whoaali at 7:10 PM on March 2, 2008

I'm not a judge, but I'd hardly consider it shirking in your situation. When I was on jury duty I was still getting full pay from my employer.
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:13 PM on March 2, 2008

It's not whether you the jury pay is greater than day care that determines whether it's a hardship, it's whether you can afford it. If you can't afford day care, or can't afford to not work, then that's hardship.

Jury pay being less than expenses is not itself a hardship.

Not being able to afford the month off, and not being able to keep your own business afloat if you're not working, those are hardships.
posted by zippy at 7:16 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm self-employed and the sole daytime caregiver of my son. I've asked for, and received an exemption from jury duty (for municipal and superior court, ymmv for fed) on that basis several times. Prior to having a child, I served on juries. After my son is of an age to be able to not require my supervision, I'll serve again. The exemption you seek to this summons just a temporary phase in your lifetime as a prospective juror and you shouldn't hesitate to do what works for you sans guilt.
posted by jamaro at 7:18 PM on March 2, 2008

I've always wanted to be called to jury duty, because I'm curious and interested in it. The only two times I've been called have been when I've had a new baby, and both times I've been let off after making a phone call to the number on the notice. No biggie.

Don't feel bad about being unable to serve and asking to be released. It's perfectly reasonable. I still hope to get called again when my kids are older; life is long, you'll get another chance to serve as well, most likely.
posted by not that girl at 7:19 PM on March 2, 2008

In California, if you are a primary caregiver for a child, this is often seen as a legitimate reason for requesting a temporary suspension of jury duty. You may be able to make the request over the phone, or you may have to write in.

And rokusan seems to be missing the fact that the laws concerning jury duty are written to take into account financial situations such as yours (unlike gas station theft). In California, there is also an exclusion written into the process that is specifically for "economic hardship." Quoted from the website:

Extreme financial burden. You will need to provide your employer's signed written verification of no pay. If you are self-employed, proof of same is required. (This may be a business card or a copy of your business license.)

Between this and being a primary caregiver, it's worth asking some questions. It's hardly inappropriate to consider your options.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:19 PM on March 2, 2008

you should absolutely request hardship with absolutely no guilt whatsoever.

where are these employers who pay you while you're on jury duty? if you have to be out of work for more than a day, do they pay every day you're out? i really can't imagine any employer paying you your salary to sit on a jury for two weeks.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:48 PM on March 2, 2008

Sounds like a reasonable financial hardship to me - there's no harm in asking for the exemption. Maybe they would at the very least defer you so you'd have longer to figure out arrangements, save some extra money, whatever.

(As for employers - the university I used to work at paid for jury duty indefinitely as long as you gave them a receipt showing how much pay you'd gotten from jury duty itself. That amount was deducted from your pay, or maybe I had to sign the check over - I can't remember. They were certainly paying me more for my usual daily pay than I was giving them from my jury duty pay, so I didn't pay the details much mind. I now work at a hospital and I know there's some sort of jury duty pay setup there too, although I don't know if there's any fine print about how long you can get it.)
posted by Stacey at 7:56 PM on March 2, 2008

I work for a state university, and they pay unlimited jury time. I served on a 3-week civil trial, and my boss was an alternate juror for a civil trial that lasted close to 2 months (and then she didn't even get to deliberate, poor thing).

You should definitely claim extreme financial burden; many of the folks in my jury pool were dismissed with similar excuses. The best reason was the guy who was an astronomer and who had upcoming time on a telescope in Hawaii.
posted by mogget at 8:06 PM on March 2, 2008

misanthropicsarah - I work in a public library in Canada and my employer pays the entire salary (minus the nominal jury duty pay that kicks in after 10 days) of any employee serving jury duty. This is true of any workplace I have worked at (however, I have only ever worked at unionised organisations and this is not law in Ontario). It seems weird to me that anything larger than a mom'n'pop business would NOT top up their employee's pay in the name of serving their civic duty. It is a shame that the courts have not created two scales of pay, a reasonable one for people that would suffer hardship by serving and the nominal pay for those that have their pay topped up.
posted by saucysault at 8:10 PM on March 2, 2008

re: misanthropicsarah and employers providing paid leave:
The FLSA does not require employers to pay nonexempt salaried employees or hourly employees while on leave for jury service. Exempt employees who are absent from work for part of a workweek to perform jury service should be paid their full salaries, otherwise their exempt status is put at risk under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the FLSA, exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any workweek in which they perform any work, unless a deduction in pay is specifically provided for ... A handful of state laws require employers to pay employees while on jury duty ... Although not required to do so, most employers pay all employees, regardless of FLSA status, while on jury duty.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:11 PM on March 2, 2008

Because you're in federal court, 28 U.S.C. 1866 governs, generally, the standards for hardship as an excuse for jury duty, and it doesn't sound like you qualify there, but you should go ahead and plead hardship anyway, with this added proviso-- tell the judge that you are quite willing to come and sit in judgment of a shorter case (I'd keep the notion of not wanting to hear a civil case involving big corporations to yourself), but for the reasons you stated, the 4-week trial would hurt you and your family. And if that doesn't work, there's a good chance that either side's lawyer will try to strike you.

If it did happen, though, I'm wondering if there's some way to keep your business going during the trial-- maybe hire an answering service or a virtual assistant to take calls, which you can return on breaks (there will be a lot of them, you'll keep getting sent out of the courtroom), and maybe you can do some work on nights and weekends. I say this because, despite the statistical odds against being chosen, you sound like the type of juror I often want-- independent, responsible, and wanting to get out of there asap. More generally, as someone who also operates a small business, I'm gonna suggest that this may be a wakeup call as to how you handle any kind of unexpected absence. Finally, I'll really, strongly suggest that if you do return calls on breaks, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE when you're in court. Judges go ballistic when cell phones ring in court. You'll also have to see what the court's policy is on cell phones generally-- all the ones I go to allow them-- they used to either ban them entirely or disallow camera phones.

I try civil cases, sometimes in a federal court, and while some of them can be as interesting as watching paint dry, a surprising number have one or more stories of human foibles at their center. Even your two-mega-corporation case could very easily have that human interest story, and if the lawyers are any good, they'll make the case about that and not something dry. If it were all about the law, they wouldn't need a jury-- very few cases ever make it that far, but are resolved through summary judgment or settlement or the like.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 8:37 PM on March 2, 2008

I was just in a federal jury trial. What our judge did was he excused the people with serious hardship, and then put the people with middle-amount hardship at the end of the line. By the end of the morning, everyone who had sought to be excused was in fact excused.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:21 PM on March 2, 2008

I think it's reasonable. If I was a lawyer, I wouldn't want you. You might be likely to make a hasty decision, just so you don't have to keep losing money or missing time with your family. You don't want to be on one of those "convicted so-and-so over before lunch was over" juries.
posted by acoutu at 10:02 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: I work for a federal court. In my experience, although it varies from judge to judge and case to case, most would let you off during jury selection. The last jury trial I worked on was supposed to be less than 2 weeks, and the judge still let people off with situations less compelling than yours.

Don't try any nonsense about how you've read about the case or trump up some extreme prejudice or outlandish excuse. It won't work and will upset the court, which is never in your interest. I mean, seriously, do you think the federal judge has never seen someone put on a show to get out of being on a jury? Don't say anything that's not true, because the wrong judge on the wrong day just might ask to call the hospital your dear grandmother is staying in or ask for the receipt for the trip you've been planning for years or whatever. I assure you, you don't want to be that guy.

Either call in advance and see if you can get an exemption, or just be honest with the judge during jury selection. I think you'll be fine.

(Side note: the fact that they told you when you got the summons that it would be 4 weeks makes me wonder if it's a Grand Jury, which is a separate situation. For regular jury duty, you normally just get told to show up on a certain day or call on a certain day, and you find out the details of the case if you get put into the pool of potential jurors. So even the court might not know what case you'd be on until that day.)
posted by jewishbuddha at 11:59 PM on March 2, 2008

Response by poster: Wow,
this is my first question to the hive, and I've just gotta say thanks! For questions of conscience, it's like having 20 little MEs on my shoulder, each with different expertise, ready and willing to share their ideas. Thanks! I will request an exemption, and hope than when times are more flexible, that I will have the opportunity to be one of the twelve angry men (and women.)

missouri_lawyer, "The 4 hour work week" is sitting on my desk in my office...Yes, I probably could keep the business going for 4 weeks, and make it work somehow, but in the meantime, my wife, who works to be a sane and balanced individual, as I do, would through our three children out the window after her 4th full day in a row at home taking care of kids.
posted by johngalt at 6:25 AM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: I was called up last week in Denver but not chosen, (they never seem to pick mathematicians). In our case it was considered a hardship if you're the sole caregiver for an elderly or infirm person, but they offered free daycare for children so that doesn't get anyone off the hook. We did have a couple self-employed people who got off because they complained of not being able to focus on the trial while worrying about money, but the lawyers and judge were not willing to let them go easily. Please be sure not to be a jerk about it, as those in my jury pool were, but be sure to make your situation known.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:46 AM on March 3, 2008

It would be interesting to find out whether you would be forced to use that daycare if you have children who have anxieties or other issues with being left with complete strangers.
posted by acoutu at 10:07 PM on March 3, 2008

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