By David Jacobs | The Center Square
A formerly low-profile attempt to raise juror pay turned into another argument about tort reform in the Louisiana House of Representatives Thursday.
Senate Bill 270 by state Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, started out as an attempt to raise juror pay from $25 to $50 a day to match the federal rate, while also increasing the mileage rate and tying future rates to possible federal increases.
After the state Senate passed the bill without a dissenting vote, the state Police Jury Association complained about the potential cost for parishes that must pay for criminal trials. The bill was amended to apply only to civil trials. In Louisiana, the party asking for the jury must put up a bond to pay for the cost of the jury trial.
Rep. John Stefanski, a Crowley Republican who argued for the bill in the House, said $50 is a reasonable rate. He also said the tort reform bill the House will take up Friday lowers the threshold that guarantees the right to a jury trial from $50,000 to $5,000. If the bill passes, the state may need more people to serve on juries, though advocates say they don’t think the system will be overloaded with jury trials.
But Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican, portrayed the bill as a backdoor way to undercut tort reform by making jury trials more expensive. Auto insurance companies would have to pay more when they ask for a jury trial, passing the costs along to their customers.
“This would be sticking it to people who ask for a jury trial,” he said.
But other members agreed with Stefanski that $50 isn’t too much to ask for someone to potentially take off work to serve on a jury.
“This is not about tort reform,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge. “These [jurors] are the constituents that sent us here.”
Representatives voted 65-33 to approve the $50 daily rate but removed the provision tying the state’s rates to the federal system.
Senate Bill 418 by Sen. Kirk Talbot would make a wide range of changes to how the state’s legal system handles automobile accidents, including lowering the jury trial threshold. The bill is up for final passage in the House on Friday.