We give awesome power to a jury of citizens


In the aftermath of the "trial of the century," I was struck by what I heard from the public and lawyers about our jury system.

"With DNA evidence, why do we need juries?"

"The jury doesn't use logic."

"The jury ignores the law."

"The TV cameras were too big a factor; they should be banned."

"Silence the lawyers."

Millions of people believe they know what happened the night of June 12, 1994. Statistics and anecdotes demonstrate that the public lost confidence in the jury system.

I am struck by the lack of humility in the face of the fact that what really happened can never be known in this trial or any other trial.

A trial is an attempt to reconstruct history through witnesses who have imperfect memories and differing points of reference so that even what they see and remember is affected.

The jury itself is made up of persons who bring human frailties to the process. Due process and the rules of evidence additionally limit what a jury can see and hear.

We as a society have given the awesome power of deciding what happened to a jury of ordinary citizens, not to a single authority or to experts.

In searching for alternatives, the designers of our system decided that this was our best guarantee to avoid the excesses of the concentration of power in a central authority.

It has become an article of faith, which unites us as a people, that if we are accused of a crime, we are entitled to a jury trial.

In thinking about how to raise the level of debate about the jury system, I discovered that 82 percent of jurors in Los Angeles County who have served, deliberated and reached a verdict have become ambassadors for the system.

Yet out of 4 million who are summoned annually, only 400,000 respond. The State Bar this year has produced public service announcements and a documentary to ask the public to respond when called for jury service. Presiding judges around the state have made customer service a priority when it comes to jury service.

Together with the California Judges Association and others, the State Bar is co-sponsoring a bench, bar, media conference July 13 (see page 21) to debate application of Rule 980 (cameras in the courtroom) and the new Rule of Professional Responsibility 5-120 (public commentary by lawyers about pending cases.)

I urge lawyers and judges to stay in the public debate about the jury system.

Eileen Kurahashi, a Los Angeles attorney, is a vice president of the Board of Governors and chairs the Board of Governors Committee on Communications & Bar Relations.