Jury box
A jury box at Superior Court in downtown San Diego with clear partitions to protect against coronavirus transmission. Courtesy of the court

Assemblyman Chris Ward, a San Diego Democrat, has introduced legislation aimed at improving the diversity of California grand jury panels, it was announced Tuesday.

While jury commissioners are currently required to consider the geographic makeup of a jury pool, Ward’s office says AB 1972 would amend the statutory requirements to include gender, age, race and ethnicity during the grand jury selection process.

According to a statement from Ward’s office, amending the requirements would help juries be more representative of the demographics of a particular area.

AB 1972 would also adjust the per diem compensation grand jurors receive in order to attract a larger, more diverse pool of candidates, according to Ward’s office.

“Currently, the role of a grand juror is largely voluntary with very little compensation being given daily for their civic service,” Ward said. “This leads to disproportionate representation within courtrooms. AB 1972 will help increase transparency around the process of jury selection and ensure jurors are fairly compensated for their time.”

Cynthia Castillo, a policy advocate with Western Center on Law and Poverty, said juries “play a critical role in the lives of Californians involved in the legal system — particularly people of color and those living in poverty who are over-policed.

“We need to address bias and lack of diversity in all parts of the legal system, but right now juries are disproportionately made up of white retirees who can afford to take time off to serve. AB 1792 will ensure people are fairly compensated when they serve so jury duty is more accessible for Californians with low incomes,” she added.

–City News Service