Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Thursday that would increase judges’ pay for more driving and public transportation compensation.
Assembly Bill 1981, authored by Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose), would eliminate the 34 cents per mile fee given to judges who travel one way to and from court for the day. Those who use public transport to get to court will now be reimbursed. Courts can work with public transport operators to provide this service at no cost or to determine a reimbursement scheme of up to $12 per day, as long as the court is not far enough from the nearest public transport station.
In addition, AB 1981 requires the Judiciary Council to support a pilot program for 2 fiscal years to study whether increases in judicial compensation and mileage rates increase judicial diversity and participation.
Rep. Lee wrote the bill because the $15-a-day minimum judge fee, starting on its second day, has created financial hardship for many prospective judges, leaving many low-income Californians out of judicial service.
“The right to a trial by jury applies to both criminal and civil cases, but jury trials cannot be held unless people are unable to fulfill their civic duties,” Rep. Lee said in a statement. “By expanding compensation options for transit and increasing juror pay, we can bring jurors who are more reflective of our communities to better outcomes and better experiences for jurors.”
A few House members abstained from an early vote because of the courts’ ability to afford high jury costs, and the bill soon received bipartisan support from both chambers. The House passed the legislation 75-0 in May, after the Senate voted unanimously 40-0 last month. Governor Newsom did not issue a statement with the bill’s signing on Thursday, but his support for the bill was noted as the governor has signed dozens of other bills into law.
“A lot of people have been complaining about this,” Los Angeles attorney Oscar Carlyle told the Globe on Friday. “After the case, the judges are allowed to talk to us and sometimes I hear from the judges, and that’s always the biggest complaint. Many people want to be on jury duty, but their job won’t compensate them for missing a week or more. It comes down to $15 a day by more than a hundred, and parking or taking the subway drops to about that. It is difficult to find a different judge in LA County because the pool can be blocked by difficulties.
“This bill fixes some of that. I mean, federal jury pay is $50 a day. California, $15 per day after the first day. It’s not just Ike and low income people. High earners also complain about this. So it’s not surprising that this was signed into law.
The new judges’ transit fee is expected to go into effect soon after signing the bill.