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Report: Upping juror pay brought more diversity to San Francisco courtrooms

San Francisco's Civic Center, including City Hall, is viewed through a semicircular courthouse window.
The San Francisco Superior Courthouse at 400 McAllister St. overlooks City Hall. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

A San Francisco program that increases pay from $15 to $100 per day to jurors with low-to-moderate incomes has proven to increase the economic and racial diversity of jury pools in the city, a new report found.

The Be the Jury pilot program, launched by the San Francisco Financial Justice Project in the city's Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector, began in March 2022 with the goal of expanding access to civic duty by removing financial barriers.

A majority of participants in the program—84%—reported that they would not have been able to serve on their respective juries without the $100 per day stipend, according to the report released at the one-year mark of the program. Participants had a median household income of $38,000, which is well below San Francisco's median of $121,826, indicating that the program successfully removed financial hurdles to serve.

While jury duty is seen as a way to participate in civic engagement, a survey conducted in San Francisco found that 35% of residents are unable to serve on juries because it imposes economic hardship, according to a San Francisco Financial Justice Project press release.

The program, whose over 1,000 participants made up 9% of jurors in San Francisco criminal trials, also helped bolster the racial diversity of juries. With 60% of participants identifying as people of color, they "reflect the racial demographics of the broader San Francisco population," according to the press release.

"In our country's history, laws barred certain communities from serving on juries," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in the press release. "Be The Jury is groundbreaking because even when those discriminatory laws changed, low-income jurors—many being Black, Asian, Latino—struggled to be able to serve because they couldn't give up their wages."

Jurors are eligible for the program if their household income is less than the Area Median Income—$74,000 for a single person or $106,550 for a four-person household—and if their employer does not compensate for jury duty or they are self-employed or unemployed.

Employers in California are required to give their employees days off for jury duty, but they do not have to provide wages.

The program sparked the introduction of Assembly Bill 881, which would similarly increase the daily stipend of jurors across more California counties, including Alameda County, through 2025. The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.