No free lunch: Kane County judge seeks more money to feed jurors

 
 
Updated 9/25/2011 8:00 PM

Kane County Chief Judge F. Keith Brown recently proved there really is no such thing as a free lunch in his request for $192,000 of extra money to avoid a budget shortfall.

About $33,000 of that funding is needed to feed jurors during jury duty.

 

The request raised questions from county board members about why the county assumes the cost of feeding jurors at all.

A look at the county's bills reveals about $113,000 in jury meal expenses through the first nine months of the budget year. Most of that money went to the Just in Time Sandwich and Deli, the in-house restaurant that contracts to supply most of the meals.

The restaurant, owned by Kim Mize of St. Charles, has received about $110,000 from the county so far this budget year. The rest of the cash went to two pizza places.

"I've had those lunches," county board member Maggie Auger said in response to Brown's request for more money. "They're not worth what we pay them."

Brown said not having the in-house restaurant would create a need for longer jury breaks and further delays in trials since jurors would have to leave the judicial campus for lunch every day.

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"They are reasonably priced for what they are," Brown said.

Extending the current cost over a full 12 months for the approximately 30,000 jurors the county calls to duty every year shows the lunches cost the county about $5 per meal.

County board members seemed open to the idea of giving Brown more money if the cash can be found in the budget.

Judicial staff members revealed during last week's debate that a whole new pool of jurors may soon have access to those meals. Staff for the first time wants to utilize state IDs and unemployment lists to pull names for potential jurors.

Brown said he has another idea to help net more revenue for the court system: forcing people who use a public defender to pay for that service if they have the means. The law already allows for such a billing, but the county has never really enforced it until now.

Any extra money for the court system would go a long way to avoiding what have now become annual requests for budget supplements because the county board has underfunded known, mandated costs in recent years.

Most of Brown's request is for money needed to hire outside attorneys to represent defendants during sexually violent person petitions. Such cases are more civil than criminal in nature, making it inappropriate to use public defense attorneys, court staff said.