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10/24/02 - Smith County

Could Raising Jury Pay Reduce Resentment

Three years ago, a state judge in El Paso gave jurors in his county a $35 pay raise. Shortly after, the county witnessed an increase in juror turnout.

 But the trend stopped there.

Most counties pay jurors only six dollars a day. Smith County considered raising that amount, according to County Clerk Becky Dempsey. But there's no definite move in that direction.

On any given day, willing and resentful jurors pile into Smith County Courthouse, hoping they don't get picked.

"It's my day off, and I get called in for jury duty," said Laura Rice, a 20-year old Smith County juror. "I'm getting paid six dollars to sit in there and wait for my name to be called."

Juror Ray Carrillo sees it in a different light. "It's our duty," he said.

Willing or unwilling, most jurors say their employers still give them regular pay. State district judge Carole Clark says the self-employed often face the greatest loss.

In 1997, a state law said counties could pay up to $50 a day, but many counties still struggle with tight budgets and pay the minimum.

Whether the hands of justice ever sway in favor of a raise, remains to be seen.

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