Chicago Tribune Letter--Jury Duty Worth More than $17.40 a Day

My letter to the Chicago Tribune, concerning their unfortunate and inaccurate portrayal of Illinois' compensation system for jurors, was published Saturday:

Your editorial “Small pay raise for Illinois jurors, big payday for lawyers” was unfortunate, yet predictable.

The bill to increase juror pay and decrease the number of jurors on civil juries is imperfect, as is all legislation. The fundamental issue is simple: Jurors are already imposed upon merely having to serve, and having them continue to serve at such cut-rate reimbursement levels is insulting. Would you want your case decided by someone being paid $17.40 a day?

In my 25 years as a civil litigator (and, yes, a proud member of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association), the fees jurors are paid has gone unchanged while the cost of living, transportation, food, parking and everything else has increased dramatically. There is simply no reason to expect we will ever get engaged, focused and content jurors if we continue to pay them at sub-minimum wage levels. As the plaintiff — the injured person — has the burden of proving his or her case, this low pay can only work to his or her detriment. This bill merely attempts to level the playing field.

Six-member juries are just as diverse and reflective of society as a whole and litigants’ peers as 12-member panels are. If anything, the 12-person jury is something most plaintiff lawyers would prefer. Where is the Tribune when a part of this bill is actually not in the best interests of the trial lawyers? The silence is deafening.

Further, the continued repetition of the old saws that “Illinois courts already are famously plaintiff-friendly,” and “the 5th Judicial District, which includes Madison and St. Clair counties, is a magnet for personal injury and product liability cases” demonstrate how incredibly out of touch your editorial board is on this subject. While I may have agreed with those statements at the ascension of my legal career in the early 1990s, this has not been the case for well more than a decade and a half. Verdicts in favor of plaintiffs continue to fall annually, the numbers of cases going to trial continue to drop and perceptions of the civil justice system, helped along by skewed arguments paid for by big business and the insurance industry, shift further away from anything resembling plaintiff-friendly.

While it is clear that the Chicago Tribune, of which I am a loyal reader, honestly believes what it writes, it is unfortunate that it simply cannot put its anti-plaintiff’slawyer bias aside in order to honestly discuss the scourge of the disinterested and “checked out” jurors.

Jury duty and service is a constitutional and fundamental civil and societal tenet. Failing to treat jurors as the significant and essential parts in this process is insulting and affects justice for all of us.

Stephen L. Hoffman,

Read original letter on The Chicago Tribune's website

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