Fee schedule for Chase debit cards (Court documents)

A federal class-action lawsuit alleges that JPMorgan Chase plotted to bilk D.C. jurors of money by forcing them to receive jury service payments on Chase debit cards that come with fees attached.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by D.C. attorney William Mark Scott, says burdensome debit-card fees deprived “those who duly fulfilled their civic duty” of fair compensation.

“Chase has devised a deceptive and unlawful scheme to deprive jurors of their full payments for jury service,” the suit reads. “This is done without an iota of consent from jurors, who are, in fact, further misled by the deceptive materials Chase provides with its debit cards, which falsely advertise that jurors can receive their funds for ‘FREE.’ ”

JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In the District, jurors receive $30 per day if they serve on a jury, plus a $4 travel allowance. But Scott’s suit alleges that he couldn’t access his full payment for serving on a jury in July because of two 25-cent charges after “not having enough money in the account to pay for a ‘declined’ Debit Card purchase,” according to the suit, and because of $1.50 in “inactivity fees.”

Screenshot of website used to manage Chase Debit cards. (Court documents)

A $13 balance from his July service is still “trapped” on his debit card, the suit said.

In a statement issued by his attorneys, Scott, 58, said he has lived in the District for more than two decades and is usually called for jury duty every two years. An attorney who represents whistleblowers, he estimated that he had served more than 10 times.

The suit notes that Chase charges about $5 for withdrawing money from out-of-network ATMs and $7 for withdrawing money using the debit card at a Chase branch. (The nearest Chase ATM is in Newark, Del., according to the Chase website.)

Meanwhile, small balances left on cards — like the $4 that people receive when they report for jury duty but are not selected for a panel — cannot be easily accessed and are effectively “forfeited to Chase,” the suit said.

“Chase thus has complete control over a captive population of American jurors, which Chase exploits through a scheme that is intentionally designed to rob these jurors of the money owed to them by statute to line Chase’s own pockets,” according to the complaint.

Anna Haac, an attorney for Scott, called the Chase cards an example of “corporate greed resulting in a transfer of wealth from the bottom up.”

“These are taxpayer dollars that are supposed to go to jurors for serving their civic duty to our communities and performing an integral function in our American democracy,” she wrote in an email.

Leah Gurowitz, spokeswoman for D.C. Superior Court, said more than 31,000 people served as jurors in the District during the last fiscal year, and jury fees totaled $701,000. She said the court began paying jurors with debit cards in 2015 on the recommendation of the U.S. Treasury Department, partly because of problems with courthouse ATMs that dispensed money to jurors.

“The program is not designed to save the court money but rather to make it more convenient for jurors — they don’t have to wait for checks to be issued each day,” she wrote in an email. She added: “Any fees imposed are negotiated between Chase and the U.S. Department of Treasury.”

It’s not the first time a juror has faulted a court for using a debit-card system. After compensating its jurors with debit cards for three years, Norfolk, Va., switched back to checks in 2016 after complaints about fees.

However, some jurisdictions say paying jurors with a debit card saves money. Gwinnett County in Georgia switched to Chase credit cards in 2014, saying it was cheaper than printing and mailing checks.