California Bar Journal
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A kinder, gentler jury system
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by Dana K. Silver
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Every trial lawyer, at some time, has felt that many of the jurors selected during voir dire would rather undergo painfully protracted dental work than sit through the trial. It is evident that most of the citizens who comprise the jury venire in this state detest jury service.

As trial counsel, it is a disquieting thought, but the reality is that this disgruntled majority is rendering verdicts in our cases. Inevitably, this must have a negative impact on our jury system.

Jurors are more than displeased with a justice system which often treats them with fewer accommodations, rights and respect than many criminal defendants. Complaints about jury service are all too common. The length of service is too long; courthouse locations are cramped and uncomfortable; the pay is so meager that it may barely cover the cost of lunch.

Dana K. SilverThe reasons are numerous, but there is hope that a new day will dawn for a brighter future for jury service. The following are some measures which can and must be implemented to revolutionize attitudes about jury service:

Provide service limitations and realistic trial time estimates.

California has moved in the right direction by enacting legislation which places time limitations for jury service. Simply stated, it is a one day or one jury service limitation. In other words, if the prospective juror does not get selected for a jury on his or her day of service, then the juror is discharged from further service.

If the juror is selected for a jury, then the juror serves for the length of the case. This type of commitment assists in avoiding the dreaded juror burnout since the time obligation is relatively fixed.

Additionally, lawyers and judges need to be realistic about the amount of time required to try a case. There are situations where cases run longer than expected. All too often, however, the trial goes beyond original estimates because the lawyers "over try" their cases or cause delays and judges fail to expeditiously move a trial to conclusion. Jurors mentally disengage and become bored when representations regarding the length of the trial prove false.

Prospective jurors select the timing of service.

How many times has counsel engaged in voir dire had to waste a peremptory challenge on a prospective juror with a bad attitude who was not dismissed by the court for claimed hardship or calendar conflict? Prospective jurors who claim hardship or have calendar conflicts would have the opportunity to commit themselves to jury service for a point in time that they select.

The prospective juror may be more committed to service since they chose the timing instead of the compulsion of a jury summons. The idea is to get prospective jurors to invest themselves in jury service. The coercive route to jury service may get bodies in the jury box, but that method frequently produces jurors who lack an open mind and a commitment to the process.

Increase the pay for jury service.

In most jurisdictions, the amount that a juror receives for service is less than $10 a day. This amount would not cover the cost of parking, gasoline or lunch in most metropolitan locations.

What does it say for our system of justice when in most jurisdictions a witness who provides testimony at trial receives a larger fee than the juror who is charged with the awesome responsibility for deciding the case?

Although jury service is every citizen’s duty, many people are not in the position to expend their own resources to fulfill their duty. Despite budget restrictions, greater resources need to be allocated for juror compensation.

Make jurors comfortable.

Provide jurors with convenient parking, lunch, child care and other advantages. In other words, do all that can be done to make jurors feel important and special. Many jurors feel that they are rounded up like cattle on the range or treated like kindergartners. Jury congregation rooms need to have comfortable furniture and areas designated for quiet reading, talking, card playing and other popular juror activities.

Signe, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia, USAIt is in the area of comfort that the local bar associations can have a great impact. For example, members of the bar can donate to the courts items like furniture, reading material, games or other articles of interest for occupying time and the mind.

Local bar members should visit jury venues and speak on varied topics or lead discussions on important issues of the day. Citizen participation will be enhanced and may increase. The system will have jurors who are more committed by elevating the degree of respect, intelligence and comfort provided.

Jurors are an indispensable part of the justice system.

It is time to implement dynamic ideas and resources to improve the quality of jury service.

The nature of the justice administered through our system is interdependent upon those who participate in the justice system. Unquestion-ably, jurors are an integral part of the justice system.

The time is right for a kinder and friendlier jury service system.

Dana K. Silver practices insurance law and is an assistant counsel for an insurance company in Costa Mesa.