Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, August 4, 2003


Page 1


Federal Judges Plan to Spend Reserve Fund to Pay Jurors


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


Federal judges plan to tap a $10 million emergency fund to avoid running out of money to pay jurors who serve in civil trials.

The spending averts the potential suspension of civil jury trials, but could mean new problems if another emergency arises before October, when the federal budget cycle begins anew.

“You don’t want to use all the money in your bank when you still have two months left in the year,” David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Friday.

The Senate approved the emergency spending last week, and House approval is expected.

Earlier in the week, a federal judge who oversees administration of the court system asked fellow judges to suspend “noncritical” civil jury trials because of an unexpected shortfall of more than $4 million to pay jurors.

On Thursday, Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revised her advice to judges. She said the emergency money would allow civil trials to continue, although she said there may be delays in paying some private lawyers who represent criminal defendants too poor to afford their own lawyers. Besides the juror pay, the rest of the emergency fund will go to lawyers’ fees.

King chairs the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of United States, which sets policy for the federal court system.

Chief Judge Constance Marshall of the Central District of California said she had seen the correspondence from Washington, but did not anticipate any problems in meeting requirements for jury trials in the foreseeable future.

“I think this is a problem on the national level,” Marshall told the METNEWS, “but we have not experienced a problem in our district.”

Marshall said she spoke to the court’s executive officer, Sherri Carter, and that Carter was unaware of any problem in the district. Nor have either of them heard from other judges about any difficulties with scheduling jury trials, Marshall said.

“I think for us it’s just business as usual at this point,” the chief judge said.

Federal courts handle both criminal and civil trials, some with juries and some without. The Constitution guarantees a speedy jury trial to criminal defendants, but judges have more leeway when it comes to civil trials.

Federal courts have twice briefly suspended civil trials, during budget crises in 1986 and 1993.

Jurors in federal trials are paid $40 a day plus travel expenses.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company