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Class Action Lawsuit Challenges King County’s Failure to Pay for Jury Service

August 8, 2016

Suit alleges King County’s jury system unlawfully excludes poor people and people of color

August 8, 2016 – Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC and the Law Office of Jeffrey L. Needle today filed a class action lawsuit against King County for failing to pay individuals for time spent performing jury service. The suit alleges the county’s practice of not compensating jurors disproportionately affects the poor and people of color, who end up being excluded because they cannot afford to miss work. King County pays jurors only for expenses at the rate of $10 per day plus mileage or travel fare. The suit seeks an injunction requiring the county to pay a minimum hourly wage to jurors who are not already compensated by an employer for their service.

“Juries should be drawn from a fair cross-section of the community,” said attorney Toby Marshall. “A jury system that excludes certain segments of society is unfair and undemocratic.”

“Citizens aren’t required to give up their incomes in order to vote, and they shouldn’t have to do so with jury service either,” said attorney Jeffrey Needle.

Next to voting, jury service is the most significant form of citizen participation in American democracy. It allows randomly selected citizens to directly dispense social justice unaffected by politicians, bureaucrats, or lobbyists. Acting as the social conscience of the community, jurors guard against governmental abuses and hold the most powerful forces in society accountable to the rule of law. Jurors determine guilt and innocence, the liability of large corporations, and just compensation. Thomas Jefferson described trial by jury as “the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” It is for these reasons that the right to trial by jury is protected by both the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution.

Washington law prohibits exclusion from jury service on account of race, color, or economic status. Washington law also prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of race or color. Nevertheless, poor people, particularly people of color, are significantly underrepresented on jury panels due to the financial hardships associated with jury service. This underrepresentation denies to litigants their right to a jury drawn from a broad cross-section of the community and denies citizens with low income, especially people of color, an opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

In 1999, the Washington State Jury Commission was created to examine the issues of juror reimbursement and participation rates. Members of the Commission included judges, prosecution and defense attorneys, court administrators, and legislators from throughout the state. After a year of study, the Commission concluded: “[S]pecial efforts should be made to increase participation in jury service by sectors of society that traditionally have not participated fully, particularly young people and minority communities.” Among its recommendations, the Commission gave the “highest priority” to increasing compensation for jurors. The Commission deemed it “unacceptable that this state’s citizens are required to perform one of the most important civic duties at a rate that does not remotely approach minimum wage.” The Commission found that “[i]ncreased fees will not only address the current inequity in juror compensation, but will also contribute to more economically and ethnically diverse juries by enabling a broader segment of the population to serve.”

Despite the findings and recommendations of the Washington State Jury Commission, the rate of juror reimbursement in King County remains the same today as it was in 1959.

The lawsuit was filed in Pierce County Superior Court on behalf of three plaintiffs: Ryan Rocha, Nicole Bednarczyk, and Catherine Selin. The plaintiffs are represented by Seattle attorneys Toby Marshall of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC and Jeffrey Needle of the Law Office of Jeffrey L. Needle.

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