In an effort to trim costs, city court officials propose cutting jurors' pay

January 24, 1995|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore jurors, already the lowest paid in the state at $10 a day, would see their pay cut in half under a preliminary budget submitted by city court officials.

The proposal is at the center of a budget tussle between Joseph H. H. Kaplan, the city's administrative judge, and Edward J. Gallagher, the city budget director.

While justifying the proposal as the quickest way to cut the court budget to meet city demands, Judge Kaplan said in the next breath that he'd rather see the city relax its budget allowance and leave juror pay where it is.

In response, Mr. Gallagher said the juror fee reduction would not be considered and the $6.6 million "target" figure would remain "pretty firm."

The stalemate, said Mr. Gallagher, will have to be resolved by April, when he submits his recommendation for the court budget to the city Board of Estimates.

The cutback would reduce the city court budget by $245,100 in the next fiscal year and help bring it within $100,000 of the city's spending target of $6.6 million. "It's the only thing we can do to save substantial money," Judge Kaplan said. But in a letter to the city budget office, Judge Kaplan noted some citizens may not be able to afford the costs of reporting for jury duty.

In the past, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has urged a state takeover of Circuit Court operations. A gubernatorial commission deemed that proposal too expensive, but said the state should absorb some local costs, such as paying jurors.

Nonetheless, word that a reduction in fees was under consideration surprised those who supervise the city's jurors.

"To expect $5 to cover their car fare and to buy them a meager lunch, that's asking quite a bit," said Ernestine K. Thomas, city jury commissioner. Marilyn L. Tokarksi, the deputy jury commissioner, said, "I would hate to see it happen. You feel embarrassed telling them you're going to give them $10."

Edward J. Angeletti, the city judge who oversees the jury functions, said the reduction would mean some jurors would be in the red after parking the car and eating lunch. And that, said the judge, might make the idea a tough sell. The state legislature must approve the amount of fees paid to jurors statewide.

Juror fees vary by jurisdiction. All of the state's counties pay at least $15 a day, and many include a mileage allowance for travel. Baltimore County pays $15 a day and reimburses jurors for parking in a county-owned garage.

Under terms outlined in state law, Cecil County pays its jurors best, giving them $20 a day, a mileage allowance and another day's pay if duty extends past 6 p.m. Jurors in federal court are paid $40 a day plus 30 cents a mile in travel expenses and reimbursement for parking. The jury fee issue arose as part of the annual budget process involving the city Circuit Court and city government. Judge Kaplan has repeatedly complained that the city does not adequately fund its court operation. Meanwhile, some citizens called for jury duty yesterday found it hard to believe that anyone would consider cutting their pay.

"I have to give up at least a day of my time when I'm not earning money," said Norman Goldschmitt, a self-employed designer of custom window treatments. "Ten dollars isn't even enough. Why do they want to take it out on us?"

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