On Monday, Circuit Court Judge W. Stephen Nixon told a roomful of Jackson County citizens that they were lucky to have been summoned for jury duty. Only two trials were scheduled this week, Nixon said, and the parties in each were likely to reach settlements before noon, meaning everyone would be dismissed.
I was there because I'd received my first summons ever. When Nixon's prediction came true, I felt very lucky indeed.
Nixon obviously knows that people dread jury duty. So did the people who made the sunny orientation video we all had to watch, which attempted to sell us on the joys of serving. The video had an all-star KC cast: The hosts were George "Droopy Drawers" Brett and Elizabeth Alex of KSHB Channel 41. Weatherbear Bryan Busby and The Kansas City Star's C.W. Guswelle waxed on about all the power we'd be wielding. (Gusewelle called jury service a "privilege," but when you reach his age, your day's highlight is waiting for the mail.)
I'd probably love jury duty, but I watch trials voluntarily. (So does Brett. Circuit Judge Jay Daugherty knows Brett from the ALS Association, and once told me that, during stretches of away games with the Royals, Brett and his teammates would pop into the courthouses of different cities for voyeuristic entertainment.)
The main reason that jury duty sucks is because it costs time and money. State law prevents employers from penalizing workers for their absences, but they're not required to pay workers for that time off,
either. Jackson County pays jurors just $6 a day, a rate that hasn't increased since 1955.
Nixon told us that that could all change within the next few weeks if a bill by Rep. Ray Salva (D-Oopsville) can get a hearing before the end of the legislative session. H.B. 1380 would make the first day of jury selection in Jackson County unpaid, pay $6 for the second day of service, and pay $40 for each subsequent day.
There were nearly 200 people at Monday's summons, and we each got $6 to hang out til noon and be told that we weren't needed. I'd gladly have given up my check so that actual jurors could be better compensated.
If you think more money would make jury duty suck less, bug your local representative to get H.B. 1380 on the Judiciary's calendar before time's up.