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Jury duty can cost you

Everyone grumbles about the boredom and the bad coffee. Ever thought about the financial hardship?

By Donna_Freedman Apr 16, 2010 11:24AM
Earlier this week I dodged the jury-duty bullet. Ordered to report for two days, I was selected for one pool but let go. It may have been because I explained that I'm a freelance writer who cannot afford to be cooped up in a courtroom for weeks. But it may also have been because:
  • I've been injured in an auto accident. (The case we were to have looked at involved lost income and "enjoyment of life" after a crash.)
  • I write for MSN Money. (The guy doing the suing was in the securities industry.)
  • The guy's attorney just didn't like my face. A friend of mine joked, "You look like you’re ready to acquit."
I wasn't the only one who would have been in trouble if selected. A woman in the group is a personal trainer who not only would have lost income but possibly clients as well if she were gone for an extended period.

Another potential juror said that her boss won't pay her for jury duty -- or for the two days she spent in the jury assembly room.

Anybody out there OK with losing two or more days' salary?

An unforeseen 'emergency'

When we think about an emergency fund, I bet most people envision car repairs, doctor bills or job loss. I’ll admit that "jury duty" never appeared on my radar screen.

Here in King County, Wash., jurors get $10 a day plus mileage or bus fare. A bunch of us won't even get that because we agreed to donate it to a courthouse child care center. (The place is set up for kids who are called to testify, or for those whose parents or guardians have courthouse business.)
As a freelancer I'm paid per assignment, not per day. As long as I can make deadline for the Living With Less column and this blog, I'll get paid. Fortunately, the two days I spent there this week didn't put me too far behind.

Those other two women dodged the bullet, too. But they're still out two days' pay.

It could happen to you

Make no mistake: I understand that jury service is important and I do take it seriously. I've been called twice during my life and served once, for a purse-snatching trial. (Incidentally, I didn't vote to acquit.)

That said, consider jury duty as just one more reason to build an emergency fund. This is especially true for those who, due to unemployment or underemployment, are just about keeping the books balanced. What would losing two or more days' worth of salary do to the bottom line?

Maybe you think you can't afford to save money. In some cases that's true. Some people are so rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul strapped that they really can't spare a dime.

However, some of us only think we can't afford to save. We forget about the morning coffees, the mid-afternoon sodas, the Friday pizzas, the little extras on the cell phone plans. It's only a few bucks, we reason. What good would that do?

You'd be surprised. See "An emergency fund out of thin air" and "9 sneaky tips for saving more" for some examples of how people turn chump change into financial peace of mind. So build a cushion and then treat yourself.

And if you're not willing to give up your daily java? Savor it while you can, because they're probably not providing free coffee in the jury room.

Related reading:

Feb 17, 2012 11:31AM

As many Iraq/Pakistan/Afganistan and Vietnam veterans plus all the military retirees should be exempt from jury duty.  We have served our country in a war zone.  Some of us have limbs left behind those places, but most Americans, or they want to be called Americans persist on getting

everybody to go to jury duty.  I have yet to see and CEO, CFO of a large company go to jury duty.

I have written my congressman to  present a law in Congress so that every State in the Union exempt all military retirees w/20 plus years and all recent war vets with a minimum of six months

of in-country duty. I collect military retire pay and have to work as self employed to make end meet and having to go to jury duty would hurt tremendously.

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