SANTA FE (KRQE) – Serving on a jury is a civic duty, but an inconvenient one for many.
The silver lining is that it does pay, $6.25 an hour. It’s less than minimum wage, but better than nothing.
But Arthur Pepin, the state’s top court administrator says the fund used to pay jurors is running pretty thin.
“We project that we’re a little over $400,000 short,” Pepin said.
And that means the state’s going to have to write out IOU’s instead of paying jurors until the next fiscal year starts in July.
“They are entitled to the compensation and they will get their compensation but it will unfortunately be delayed,” Pepin said.
The fund, which also pays for interpreters, ran dry despite lawmakers putting another $600,000 in for this fiscal year during this year’s session. Pepin says there was simply a higher demand for jurors than projected.
“It doesn’t take long if you have an uptick over the course of six or seven months for that to turn into several hundred thousand dollars you did not anticipate,” Pepin said.
Lawmakers KRQE News 13 spoke to weren’t happy.
“I think it’s very disrespectful to ask jurors to serve now and get paid later,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.
Ivey-Soto, an attorney himself, blames a legislative crime crackdown for the increased jury costs.
“When you increase penalties, more people choose to go to trial and this is one of the natural results,” Ivey-Soto said.
There is a chance jurors could get paid before July. On Tuesday, Pepin will go before the New Mexico Board of Finance to ask for $463,000 in emergency money to pay jurors immediately.
If that money doesn’t come through, it’ll put the fund way behind for the next fiscal year.
The funding shortfall is not expected to delay any civil or criminal trials.
The jury funding shortfall is not a new problem. The Administrative Office of the Courts has frequently required extra funding or emergency money to pay jurors on time during the recent recession.
During the state’s budget crunch, lawmakers gave the New Mexico Supreme Court the ability to cut juror pay per hour if there aren’t enough dollars to cover what’s owed in the fund. Pepin says he doesn’t believe justices would be likely to drop that $6.25 an hour any lower in this case.
If the emergency funding request is denied Pepin expects judges will be more likely to excuse jurors if waiting weeks to get paid is too big of a financial burden.