Detroit Free Press
Sunday, June 1, 2008
MACOMB | Clerk wants to pay jurors cash, issue pagers
Plan on track for cash pay for jurors
But push to give them pagers stalls
By AMBER HUNT
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh wants to give jurors pagers so they can walk around downtown Mt. Clemens while they wait to be called.
While the plan is temporarily stalled because of money, a proposal to pay jurors in cash at the end of each day so the county can save thousands in check-processing costs remains on track for June.
Both proposals have been floated in recent months by Sabaugh, and while both have been well-received by county officials and downtown businesses, the one that would cost money -- the pager plan -- might not move forward as quickly as Sabaugh had hoped.
"I'd like to see it in place this summer, but we're not getting money" from the county, said Sabaugh, pointing to the $12-million deficit the county is facing this year, and the $15-million one it will face next year.
"Talking about money to the Board of Commissioners is difficult right now," she said.
Sabaugh said the 150 pagers she would need would cost $30,000. The 2008 budget for the clerk and register of deeds office is about $6.975 million. Revenue is estimated at $6.967 million, leaving about $8,000 in wiggle room.
Sabaugh hopes to appeal to the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority, the city's commissioners and the county to pay for the pagers.
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The devices would work for a one-mile radius. Jurors would have 10 minutes to report to the clerk after being paged. Those who don't would be found in contempt of court.
Neither Wayne nor Oakland counties offer jurors pagers. In fact, Wayne County forbids jurors from taking electronic devices into the jury room, said Ilene Marschner, assistant jury services supervisor.
Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens DDA, called the pager proposal an "awesome idea," one that his organization might help pay for, if other contributors step up as well.
"Instead of being cooped up in a room all day, jurors can decide, 'I want to sit by the river,' 'I want to go window shopping,' 'I want to sit in a coffee shop,' " Mullen said. "People are in a lot happier room when they're not having to wait in a confined area."
Since Sabaugh took office in 1992, her office has launched several programs meant to make jury duty in Macomb County a tad more bearable.
There's the One-Day, One-Trial system, which frees potential jurors after one day if they're not selected to sit on a trial. Then there's the wireless Internet installed in the jury room to help stave off boredom. Jurors also can request reading material from the library ahead of time, and those who don't have transportation to the courthouse can get free SMART bus tickets.
Oakland County offers free wireless Internet in its jury room as well. Otherwise, Macomb's programs are unique in the area.
Macomb's most recent proposal is to pay jurors cash at the end of each half or full day that they serve, nixing the mailed checks the county now cuts.
Sabaugh said she hopes the cash-in-hand plan begins as early as the third week of June.
Jury pay is mandated by the state. Jurors are paid $12.50 for their first half day; $25 for their first full day; $20 for subsequent half days, and $40 for subsequent full days.
About 19,000 jurors a year, or more than 350 a week, pass through the building, according to chief deputy clerk Todd Schmitz. In 2007, juror compensation, which includes 10 cents a mile in travel costs, was about $670,000.
Neither Wayne nor Oakland counties pay jurors in cash. Sabaugh said the cash plan is meant to free up the jury clerk, who spends huge chunks of time tracking down missing payments.
"Some people got paid twice. Some people didn't get paid at all," Sabaugh said. "This seemed like the simpler way to do it."
The move will save the county about $9,500 a year, Sabaugh said.
That savings also might give her leverage with the county in moving the pager plan along, she said.
Mullen of the DDA said paying jurors in cash could benefit downtown Mt. Clemens.
"Someone who hasn't seen our downtown might say, 'Oh, wow, I should stop in that place and have dinner,' " he said. "And if they have $25 cash in their pocket, they might feel more comfortable spending it."
Contact AMBER HUNT at 313-222-6600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.