In Arizona, reforms already are under way

While California limps toward making changes in its jury rules, Arizona implemented 15 reforms a year ago and is considering more.

The most significant -- and controversial -- changes allow jurors to ask questions of witnesses by submitting them in writing to the judge, and permit jurors to discuss a case among themselves during a civil trial before they begin deliberations.

The Arizona Supreme Court, acting on recommendations made by a committee appointed by the chief justice, also made these rules changes Dec. 1, 1995:

Panel recommendations

In an effort to make it easier for jurors to do their jobs and come out of the experience believing justice was served, Arizona Chief Justice Stanley Feldman appointed a panel of lawyers, judges and former jurors in 1993 to come up with recommendations for improvements to the system. The Committee on More Effective Use of Juries made 55 recommendations; 13 were adopted along with two more suggested by the state's Judicial Council.

Some defense attorneys and jury experts oppose the rule permitting jurors to discuss the case during trial because they believe such discussions can erode a defendant's constitutional rights.

But B. Michael Dann, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in Phoenix who was the chair and "spiritual leader" of the jury reform committee, believes the change is working well.

Discussion during trial is happening in 90 to 95 percent of civil cases, Dann says, adding that it is a valuable technique for several reasons. It allows jurors to clear up confusion at the time it arises, rather than lingering throughout the proceeding and possibly shading their interpretation of the case. Discussion makes the jury more of a team and reduces juror stress, because their natural impulse is to talk with each other.

Last, says Dann, early discussion "shortens and perhaps makes deliberations more efficient because the jurors have talked about the bits and pieces along the way."

Studying the theories

Dann's theories will be studied by a panel from the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., which recently received a $100,000 federal grant to examine discussion-before-deliberations.

Dann also favors the practice of jurors asking questions. In his initial instructions, he explains to the jury that their questions must meet the same standards the attorneys follow. "If a question passes those tests, I ask it unless it's completely off the wall," he says; he asks about 80 percent of the questions submitted to him.

The Supreme Court currently is considering two additional rules changes: one would extend juror discussions during trial to criminal cases. The second would allow a trial judge to require counsel to summarize depositions and agree upon a written summary rather than reading the contents in the traditional question and answer format. "This would avoid a tedious procedure which puts everyone to sleep," says Dann.

Several other changes which can be made without amending court rules also are under consideration, including additional sources, such as welfare recipient lists, for jury pools.

The courts also are gathering data and conducting a survey of local jurors on the economic impact of jury duty to win support for increased juror pay.