Butler County courts want to raise juror compensation 300%

Rates here haven’t been adjusted in decades, clerk of courts says.

A Butler County Common Pleas Court judge calls the current daily compensation for jurors “offensive” and commissioners are contemplating the request to raise the rate for seated jurors from $10 to $40 per day.

The county clerk of courts and common pleas judges have asked the commissioners to approve raising the amount jurors are compensated from $5 to $20 for those who are called for duty but not selected and seated jurors from $10 to $40 per day. For trials that last longer than two weeks, the daily rate would go up to $75. The rates would be the same for regular and grand juries.

To put things in perspective, a three-week death penalty trial in 2022 for suspect Gurpreet Singh, who was accused of killing family members in West Chester Twp., cost roughly $2,800 in juror compensation. Under the proposed pay scale, the cost would have been around $13,000. The jury was hung and the case will be retried in April 2024.

Administrative Judge Greg Howard told the Journal-News the county’s jury compensation is “offensive.”

“You’re asking these people to come in and give up a portion of their lives, whether it’s one day or a week or two weeks or three weeks; $5 a day I think is just offensive,” Howard said. “Even though you’re not totally compensating them for what they would be getting working a full-time job or something like that, I think it’s something that’s way overdue.”

The judge said raising the pay would also likely encourage more people to actually show up for jury duty and serve.

A survey by the court system shows counties across the state all pay more than Butler, except Summit County, which pays nothing, except if a trial lasts more than two weeks — then the rate is $15. Perry County pays $7.50 for both jurors called and those seated and Muskingum and Perry’s rates mirror Butler’s.

Clerk of Courts Mary Swain told the Journal-News the rates here haven’t been adjusted in decades.

“The current amount that we pay jurors has not changed in all the years I’ve been with the court system, that goes back to 1989,” Swain said. “Since 1989 the jurors have been paid $5 and $10 so in this day and age a juror coming over here from Oxford, it’s barely going to cover their gasoline, if at all.”

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners jurors are paid out of the general fund, and in the past the county has spent about $30,000 to $35,000 annually on juror compensation and the court budgets around $65,000, “based on what they’ve budgeted, there will not be an increase to budget.”

The court budgeted $69,875 for jury and witness fees this year, prior to this discussion. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter questioned the math, given the large increase, and asked for specifics.

Court Administrator Wayne Gilkison told the Journal-News they spent $39,000 last year on jury fees, and budgeting that expense is tricky.

“We don’t know how many jurors we’re going to get in any year...,” he said. “It’s a budget, we estimate how much and it’s a complete guess because we have absolutely no idea when we’re doing the budget in August or September the year before, how many jury trials we’re going to get.”

The report compiled by Gilkison and Swain shows last year they paid 600 regular jurors $7,740 and 942 grand jurors $27,080. Over the past 10 years jurors have been paid a total of $399,620. Swain said the majority of the jury trials last only a couple days.

Commissioner Don Dixon asked to delay voting on the fee matter until they can investigate whether the court costs could also be hiked to cover the increase.

“Somebody has to pay for that, let’s look at how we’re going to be compensated so the taxpayers aren’t paying it,” Dixon said.

“I would think that it would be appropriate for us to ask the judges to look at that and increase the cost, if everybody is in favor of increasing the payment to jurors, then we need to increase the cost to the people who are using it,” Dixon said. “I know some people can’t pay, but most of them can.”

Swain told the Journal-News the jury costs are already charged to the parties in both civil and criminal cases, so the increased costs would be passed on, but not always necessarily paid.

In civil cases when a jury trial is requested, the plaintiff pays a $100 deposit, and if they win, the judge can order the defendant to pay the court costs, and the deposit is returned. If the plaintiff loses, they are responsible for paying the entire cost.

Jury fees are also charged in criminal cases, but it is difficult to extract payment until the defendant is released from incarceration.

Swain said the judges could increase the deposit amount if they choose. Hamilton County requires $270 and they make every effort to collect, but “if we can’t collect $100 in a criminal case we’re not going to collect $270 or $150.”

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