Bednarczyk v. King County

Bednarczyk v. King County

Public Justice has filed an amicus curiae in the Washington State Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs, putative King County jurors who seek to end the disproportionate exclusion of low-income citizens and citizens of color from King County juries.

Like many jurisdictions around the country, King County pays its jurors far below the minimum wage for their service. In King County, jurors receive only $10 per day. This forces many people—like plaintiff Nicole Bednarczyk—to seek to be excused from jury duty for “economic hardship,” because they simply cannot pay their bills or support their families otherwise.

The plaintiffs in this case argue that King County’s $10-per-day payment scheme systematically excludes low-income jurors (and, because low income jurors are more likely to be people of color, also jurors of color) from service. As a result, the plaintiffs argue that King County is violating Washington State’s Juror Rights Statute, which states that a “citizen shall not be excluded from jury service in [Washington] . . . on account of economic status,” and the state’s minimum wage law. The trial court dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed—although one member of the three-judge panel wrote a substantial and scathing dissent.

The Washington State Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ petition for review, and oral argument is scheduled for late October 2019. Public Justice’s brief argues that the jury system is a fundamental function of the judiciary, and as a result the separation of powers demands that the judiciary exercise its authority to protect the jury system from the  threat posed by the exclusion of low-income jurors. Such exclusion decreases the accuracy and fairness of jury verdicts, erodes the institutional legitimacy of the judiciary, and excludes sectors of society from the benefits of serving on a jury.

It is our hope that the state supreme court will recognize its obligation to address King County’s exclusionary practices and act to ensure the continued integrity of the state’s jury system.

Public Justice’s Stevie Glaberson was lead counsel for the amici brief, which was submitted on behalf of Public Justice, the American Association for Justice, and Elizabeth Hanley of Reed Longyear Malntai & Ahrens.

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