California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - APRIL 1999
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
spacer.gif (810 bytes)

California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Front Page - April 1999
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
News
Legal specialist exam set Aug. 19
Sullivan to take reins at Stanford Law School
Only two appointed members remaining on State Bar board
Legal services board has five vacancies
Davis taps Michael Kahn
State Bar honors Justice Mosk with Witkin Medal
Board tentatively approves budget based on dues of $384
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Opinion
If it distracts, so be it
Let's cut back on jury service
Limit bar to admissions and discipline
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
From the President - Door to justice must be open
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Letters to the Editor
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Law Practice - Preparing for a successful mediation
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Appointments - Apply to serve on a bar committee
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Legal Tech - DSL speeds up Internet - at a reasonable price
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
New Products & Services
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
MCLE Self-Study
Taxes and long-term care
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Trials Digest
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Discipline
Ethics Byte - Fiduciary duties basis for all rules
Attorney nabbed at State Bar offices for soliciting murders
Attorney Discipline
Ethics for the 21st Century - A canon for the future
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Public Comment

OPINION

spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Let's cut back on jury service
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
By ROBERT N. TREIMAN
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
It is not hard to understand why the public dislikes jury service. People are required to spend time resolving other people's disputes in which they have no interest. And that is only if they are lucky and chosen for a panel. The unlucky get shuffled back and forth to courtrooms, asked personal questions in front of others, and then shuffled off to other courtrooms, never chosen.

We should step back and ask why we make people do this. There may be good reasons to force jury service upon the public with respect to criminal cases. Defendants should not be sent off to prison unless their fellow citizens have listened carefully to the evidence and given their approval to the taking away of the defendant's freedom. Those reasons do not exist with respect to civil cases.

Further, using jurors to decide civil disputes is extremely inefficient. First, many civil cases are too complex for jurors and fairer decisions could be made by a skilled judicial officer. That is why some arbitrators and retired judges are in high demand. Many lawyers would rather have a skilled jurist decide their case than 12 people of uneven educational background unfamiliar with the concepts at issue. Unless, of court, the lawyer is hoping to win on confusion or emotion.

Second, much time and resources must be spent actually getting the jurors to show up. More time is spent selecting jurors for a panel. The case moves much slower in trial, because time is spent making sure that jurors are not allowed to hear the wrong piece of evidence. None of these problems exist when a skilled judicial officer hears the case.

Robert N. TreimanMany will say that the federal and state constitutions require the jury system as it is. They do not. The federal constitution has nothing to say about jury service in state civil cases. To the extent the state constitution requires jury service, it does not do so for many cases. And the state constitution can be amended to reduce the cases for which juries are available. Indeed, we amend the constitution with propositions every election.

Rather than assuming that the best thing for society is to try to make people want to serve on juries in civil cases, people should ask whether the best thing is to reduce the number of civil cases in which juries are available, and even there reduce the number of jurors involved. Civil dispute resolution is nothing more than a government service. The government will continue to provide civil dispute resolution; there will just be less public involvement. If the public wants to volunteer for jury service, and lawyers want to use them, that should also be permitted. I suspect few among the public will volunteer.

Instead of requiring people to spend time assisting in civil disputes that they have no stake in, we should let a skilled judicial officer decide the dispute.

The lawyer lobby (and particularly the plaintiffs' bar) is a powerful faction and has much to lose if the ideas set forth here were adopted. Verdicts would be smaller. Judges also have much to lose. But lawyers and judges should stop assuming that civil dispute resolution is the most important government service and instead think about the public which suffers the consequences. The answer is not to require more tax dollars to make jury service kinder and friendlier. It is to reduce the use of jurors in civil dispute resolution.

Robert N. Treiman practices civil litigation with Loeb & Loeb LLP in Los Angeles.