Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Board of Supervisors Moves Forward on Jury Duty Mandate for Contractors
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County lawyers were instructed yesterday to draft an ordinance requiring businesses that win county contracts to pay for at least five days of jury duty for each of their fulltime employees.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion after instructing county counsel to look into making the rule apply to employees who live outside the county as well as county residents.
Otherwise, Supervisor Don Knabe said, employers with most of their workers registered in the county would be at a distinct disadvantage in bidding for county contracts when compared with businesses that operate with mostly out-of-county employees.
The draft ordinance is to come back to the board in two weeks.
If passed, it would make Los Angeles the only county in the state with such a contracting requirement, and possibly the only such public entity in the country. David Janssen, the county’s chief administrative officer, has reported that the states of Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Nebraska require all businesses to pay for employee jury service benefits, not just those seeking public contracts.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky offered the motion along with Supervisor Michael Antonovich. It was a follow-up to a request Yaroslavsky made in July to look into the issue in the wake of the new one-day-or-one-trial system that releases many jurors from service earlier, but requires more people to serve more often.
“The vast majority of qualified citizens should be called to share the burden of jury service to insure that such a system reflects the great diversity of our County,” Yaroslavsky said in his original motion. “We must recognize, however, that requiring some of our County’s citizens to sacrifice income, in addition to inconvenience and temporary work disruption, can indeed cause considerable hardship.”
Los Angeles Superior Court judges and administrators have expressed concern that the dwindling number of private businesses that pay their employees on jury duty is leading to skewed juries made up primarily of public sector employees.
The court’s manual of Employer Pay Policy for Juror Service shows that the predominant practice among businesses continues to be providing 10 days of paid jury service benefits, but also indicates a drop in the in the percentage of employers that make that provision.
Not every business that contracts with the county would be required to pay for jury duty. Companies with 10 or fewer employees and less than $500,900 annual gross revenues, and firms that do less than $50,000 a year in county business, would be exempt.
But county officials were unable to state how many contractors would qualify for exemptions or predict what impact any new contracting requirement would have on the cost of services or on businesses, because contracting data is not compiled in one place. Each department handles most of its own contracts, and no officials in the Chief Administrative Office, the Internal Services Department or the Auditor-Controller’s Office—all of which have a hand in contracting—could cite the number of businesses with which the county works or the total value of contracts.
Business leaders were philosophical about the proposal. Latham & Watkins partner Jack Walker, who headed a Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce panel on improving the jury system, said he hoped every business would pay voluntarily for their employees’ time away to serve on juries as a matter of conscience.
“I would hope they would do that, but I would back [the county contract proposal] as a last resort,” Walker told the MetNews.
Chamber President and CEO Russell Hammer said the chamber supports the spirit of the plan, but he added:
“We do not think a government mandate is the way to go. It tends to make L.A. County look even less business-friendly.”
Attorney Fred Gaines, partner in the Woodland Hills firm of Gaines & Stacey and chairman of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, expressed concern that the county contracting requirement would apply unevenly.
“VICA’s members generally are supportive of paying their employees to serve on juries, but if we’re going to have a rule we’d rather have one that applies to everyone,” Gaines said.
State legislation requiring all businesses to pay, regardless of their contracting status, would be more fair, Gaines said, especially when coupled with the one-day-or-one-trial system.
The Los Angeles Superior Court itself is considering a contracting requirement that would mandate paid jury service. But court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said the court’s priority right now is to complete the one-day system. It was implemented at the Hollywood courthouse last week, and is already in place at most of the court’s more than 50 facilities.
But it has yet to be implemented in the court’s two largest buildings, the downtown Criminal Courts Building, also known as the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, and the Central Courthouse, soon to be renamed for the late state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk.
The Los Angeles Superior Court is the only court in the state that has yet to put the system in place in every courtroom. The task here is made more difficult by the huge number of jurors required.
California Chief Justice Ronald George, a vigorous advocate of improving the jury system, said he was intrigued by the county’s contracting proposal but would have to study it further before recommending that the Judicial Council try a similar requirement for its own contracting.
“Anything we can do to increase the participation by our citizens I would be interested in,” George said. “I think it definitely warrants study.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company