Californians could soon be paid much more for jury service.
A I count going through the state legislature would give some jurors $100 a day to serve on a criminal trial jury, a big jump from the current $15 per day rate. If the legislation passes, jurors will be eligible for higher salaries in Los Angeles, Alameda, Kern, Monterey and San Francisco counties through 2025.
The proposal was inspired by a pilot program in San Francisco that increased the racial and economic diversity of county jury pools by providing $100 per day payouts to low- and moderate-income jurors. In California, employers are required to give workers vacation days to complete jury duty, but they do not have to pay employee wages.
In San Francisco, more than a third of residents say serving on a jury is a financial burden, according to city officials. So many low-income jurors were being excused for financial hardship that juries were getting richer and whiter, due to the correlation between income inequality and race, said Assemblyman Phil Ting, who sponsored the new legislation. This has further tilted the criminal justice system against people of color, he said.
During a criminal trial observed by the San Francisco public defender’s office, people of color made up about 50% of the initial pool of jurors. After jurors apologized for financial hardship, the jury’s membership became 39% black and 61% white.
« We’re always promised a jury of our peers, » Ting, who represents San Francisco, told me. “Most of the people in criminal court, a lot of them are low to middle income. They really come from very modest means. But that’s not what juries do.
The city began its program in March 2022, offering $100 to anyone earning less than 80 percent of the local median income—that’s less than $74,600 for a single person and $106,550 for a family of four or who is unemployed, working self-employed or employed by a company that has not compensated for jury service.
In the first year of the program, 495 people participated, 60 percent of whom were people of color, said Anne Stuhldreher, director of the Financial Justice Project in San Francisco, which oversees the program. The participants’ median annual income was $38,000, and the vast majority of them said they could not have served without the extra money.
« We’re under no illusions that this fixes every problem in our criminal justice system, but we hope this will make it a little fairer for people, » he told me. « It results in more racially and economically diverse juries, and I think they’re in a better position to administer justice. »
The legislation, which Ting’s office said would cost about $5.5 million annually, would expand the program to include four more counties which, along with San Francisco, make up more than a third of the state’s population. As with the pilot program, jurors would be eligible if their income is 80% of their county’s median income. No group publicly opposes the bill.
The public defender in Alameda County, Brendon Woods, he told the San Francisco Standard who supported the bill and recounted a recent case in which a black client faced a jury with no black people. He said she reminded him of when only white men could serve on juries.
« Oakland has no shortage of people of color, » she told the news. « But we have a shortage of people of color when it comes to those who serve as jurors. »
Where are we travelling
Today’s tip comes from Judith Keenan, who lives in San Francisco. Judith advises Monte Bello Open Space Reserve near Palo Alto, in the Santa Cruz Mountains:
“I was fortunate beyond measure to live on the 800 acres that make up the Monte Bello Open Space in the early 1970s. We called it the Earth. It was one of the Peninsula Open Space District’s first acquisitions. I now live in San Francisco and continue to hike there a few times a year whenever I need to get back to one of my two spiritual homes. From Monte Bello Ridge you can see both San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and on a certain night of the year watch the moon rise over the East Bay and the sun set into the ocean. There is also a wonderful trail along Stevens Creek which goes up the dirt road to Page Mill Road. It’s a magical and beautiful space (and free, of course).”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Every summer at the Sonoma-Marin Show in Petaluma, puppies big and small compete for the title of world’s ugliest dog. It’s a contest that promotes dog adoption and celebrates imperfection.
This year’s winner was Scooter, a 7-year-old Chinese Crested who looks like a shiny black jelly. His hind legs are reversed and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth.
« In the cutest possible way, it reminds me of a furry hippo, » said Catherine Liang, judge of the competition.
Read more in The Times.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. —Soumya
PS Here Today’s mini crossword.
Briana Scalia, Maia Coleman and Shivani Gonzalez contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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