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Alachua County’s Juror Donation Program Hits Low Point

Alachua County Eighth Judicial Circuit Court (Rhianna Liuzzo/WUFT News)
Alachua County Eighth Judicial Circuit Court (Rhianna Liuzzo/WUFT News)

Alachua County’s juror donation program kicked off in 2018 with thousands of dollars in donations. Since, recipients of the money are looking for ways to replace the lost funds.

“Now, 2020 has been a little bit difficult and different because we haven’t had a jury trial since March. We haven’t had any donations since then,” Alachua County Clerk of Court J.K. Irby said.

Jurors that aren’t paid by their employer are compensated $15 per day for their first three days on duty. After the third day, all members are paid $30 per day. Through the program, they can opt to send their earned funds to two local non-profits that are approved through state legislature.

“I felt that it was important to get these programs in action and help out domestic violence victims and children that were in tough spots,” Irby said.

Peaceful Paths, a local domestic violence shelter, is one of the non-profits that would typically receive these donations every month.

Executive Director Theresa Beachy said they rely on the donations for client services, like direct financial assistance and supplies. They have received approximately $5,000 a year from the program, but Beachy doesn’t expect that much this year.

Irby said of the estimated 5,000 jurors working during a typical year, about 10% opt to send their compensation in for donations. In 2018, the program saw a total of about $7,300 donated. In 2019, 433 jurors donated about $9,000.

These numbers have decreased in 2020 due to the suspension of trials in March. Irby is hopeful that after the continuation of limited trials in October, donations will start to flow again.

“We’re only going to have 30 or 40 jurors coming in, and so you might only get three or four donations out of that. We’ll have to see how folks want to go,” Irby said.

The Eigth Judicial Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem Program uses the funds they receive from the donations to provide for grant requests and training for volunteers who help children from abusive situations.

According to Judy Padgett, chair of the foundation, Guardian ad Litem has received $14,242 in total from the program since June of 2018. In 2019, $7,117 was donated. This year, the non-profit received only $3,292. That’s about half of what they expected.

“It’s such a lifesaver for us, because it allows us to give more back to the kids. It allows us to do more additional training for the volunteers,” Padgett said.

Circuit Director Angela Armstrong said she’s had to get creative in order to make up for an expected loss of $3,000 in funds from the donations.

“I know we’re going to be affected because we’re already affected. It’s had an impact with our program,” Armstrong said.

With the pandemic, Guardian ad Litem has seen an increase in requests for some more expensive items, like laptops and tablets, that the donation funds could have bought for their children. She is determined to help with any request they receive, no matter the cost.

“One of the things that we are doing that will help offset some of the lower donations that we are anticipating is that we were able to get some storage space where we can collect gently used items that we would normally buy in the past,” she said.

Armstrong remains hopeful that their support in the community will not waver from the loss, and she has hopes of continuing to help children play their favorite sport and attend the summer camp of their dreams in the near future.

“We’re hoping that with the things we can collect, we can still not be confronted with any kind of request through our foundation that we can’t meet,” she said.

Regardless of the turbulence that 2020 has brought to Alachua County’s juror donation program, Irby still has high expectations for the present and future of the initiative.

“It helps out a great deal…they’re in need of every dollar they can to try to operate the best and most efficient as they possibly could,” he said.

Rhianna is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.