By Daniel Silliman
A Clayton County grand jury has recommended doubling the daily pay jurors receive for serving.
Grand jurors, impaneled for three-month terms, meet one day per week for 13 weeks. For that day of civic service, they are each paid $25. The grand jurors recommended their per diem pay be raised to $50.
The grand jury's final presentment, released late last week, noted crime has increased, in the county, cases in the district attorney's office have increased, gas prices have increased and cost of living has increased, but grand jurors' pay has remained the same for as long as anyone can remember.
"I do remember that 25 years ago I was called into jury duty and I was paid exactly the same," said Susan Alvarez, who served as the secretary for the November term grand jury. "The cost of gas, you know, has gone up, the cost of living's gone up, yet in 25 years, the pay for being on a grand jury is the same."
Other grand jurors echoed her opinion.
"It's always been told to me that this is part of public duty, to serve if asked," said Doris Patillio, who served as the grand jury's assistant foreperson. "We felt [$25] was totally unfair. It wouldn't compensate a day's work and I don't believe it's an honest day's pay. An increase would show there's some compassion and appreciation for the civic duty."
Grand jurors are given paperwork to show their employers, and employers are required to pay them for the day they spent at the court house. Lanny R. Grubbs, a grand juror member for the November term, said he wasn't looking for the pay to compensate his income for the day, since he was still paid by his employer, but he would like to see expenses covered, at least.
"[Grand jury duty] is something you have to do," he said. "You don't have any choice. They took the first 26 people on the list and you don't have any choice. I have that paperwork to turn in at work and I got my pay there, but there's no compensation for gasoline. The way that gas and stuff is, and having to eat lunch there, $25 hardly covers your trouble."
Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott said she supports the increase recommended by the grand jurors. The final presentments handed down last week marked the third time, she said, a grand jury has asked for the increase since she became district attorney in 2005.
"I would certainly encourage lawmakers to look at increasing it from $25 because their costs associated with service have increased," Scott said. "I think the jurors, a lot of them are self employed, so when they're not working, when they're sitting, they only get $25 a day."
Most neighboring counties pay their grand jurors the same amount as Clayton County, Scott said, though DeKalb County's daily rate is slightly higher.
The November term lasted for 13 weeks. With 26 jurors paid $25 per day, the term cost taxpayers $8,450. At $50 per day, the same term would cost the county $16,900.
State law requires grand jurors be paid more than $5, but no more than $50. The actual amount they're paid, within that range, is set by the county commission.
A bill currently in the state house, authored by Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), would shift the range of pay upward, requiring counties to pay grand jurors between $25 and $85. The bill is currently in committee, where it has been since March 2003. Abdul-Salaam's office could not say, Friday, if she will push the bill this session.
The house bill, if signed into law, would not require Clayton County to pay grand jurors more, however. The amount is set by the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.
Eldrin Bell, board chairman, promised to look at the possibility of a pay increase.
"It's something I would consider," said Bell, who has held a hard line on spending and opposes increasing taxes. "It's something I'm committed to looking into."