Parish police jury raises court fees

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Next time you lose a criminal case in Seventh Judicial District Court, those court fees the judge assigns you to pay will be just a little bit higher.

And while increasing the fees assessed for the compensation of jurors and law enforcement witnesses &8212; two separate funds administered by the police jury with money collected from court costs &8212; a total of $10 might sound like kicking a convict when he&8217;s down, officials said it was the only way to keep the jury system solvent.

&8220;You hate to make people pay more, but we&8217;ve got to have some money to pay jurors,&8221; Judge Kathy Johnson said.

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When a person either pleads guilty or is convicted of a criminal offense in district court, he is ordered to pay court costs. Until Monday&8217;s court order, $5 of that amount went to a fund to compensate jurors for their time and travel.

From November through April, the fund collected $1,757.50.

Jurors, whether chosen to hear a case or not, are entitled to $25 per day plus 37.5 cents per mile for one-way travel.

In order to get a big enough pool of potential jurors for the Williams voter fraud trial, ad hoc Judge Sharon Marchman had 200 subpoenas hand-delivered at a cost of $5 per.

Tack on the compensation for the 100 or so who showed up, plus their expenses, and the cost of that trial alone approaches $4,000.

With the jury trials of Jason Short and the five defendants in the upcoming voter fraud trial sure to tax the fund further, it is not surprising to find out jurors have to wait a long time to be compensated for their duty.

Administrative personnel in both the judges&8217; and the police jury offices said those who reported for jury duty as far back as September were still waiting to collect.

They should be getting checks a little sooner now that the police jury voted Monday to loan the fund $12,000 to cover money owed.

Paying jurors was until recently the job of the police jury, something a state law changed. Judge Leo Boothe said the court, in estimating how much it would need to collect to compensate jurors, undershot the mark and would have to keep playing with it until it got it right.

He said he didn&8217;t like raising costs any more than those who pay them, but the law is the law and jurors must be paid.

&8220;With the exception of the defendants, jurors are the only ones in court not there voluntarily,&8221; Boothe said.

A reputation for not paying its jurors shouldn&8217;t affect the turnout among those called, &8220;in theory, but common sense tells you people are going to be less enthused about serving if they&8217;re not going to be paid,&8221; Boothe said.

The fee to pay jurors increased to $12.50, raising the minimum court cost range to $141.50 &045; 148.50.

That money is split between 12 agencies or funds, including the offices of the district attorney, sheriff, clerk of court, indigent defender, and the law enforcement witness fund, the last of which will now also receive $12.50, a raise of $2.50.

Additional fees are added if the offense is a misdemeanor or felony or if drugs or alcohol are involved in the crime.

Those found not guilty are not subject to court costs.