Jurors have a unique perspective on our legal system. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with someone who served on a jury this fall in California Superior Court. The trial concerned a wrongful termination claim by a former employee against a small business. More than one million dollars was at stake.
The trial ultimately resulted in a verdict of approximately $50,000 for the plaintiff. The juror to whom we spoke—Juror X—reported that serving on a jury was something he was willing to do as part of his civic duty and he did learn a lot through the process.
However, he was very frustrated by the way in which the trial proceeded. The case took over three weeks—and Juror X felt that it could easily have been concluded in one week. In the beginning, the judge let the attorneys set the pace. Some witnesses were on the stand for a full day or more. The attorneys were obstructive and nasty to each other. They objected to everything. Many of the witnesses—including expert witnesses—were unprepared and the attorneys were asking them questions that seemed to have no bearing on the case.
About midway through the trial, the judge decided to take control. He controlled the length of witness testimony, eliminated redundancy, and kept things moving. At that point, Juror X began to feel that the process was working—and he reported that the rest of the jurors shared his relief. They wondered why it did not start out that way.
Juror X has some suggestions as to how things could have been handled differently, which might have led to a better process:
- Give jurors as much information about the case as possible at the beginning;
- Give them progress reports along the way;
- Keep the trial on track and focused;
- Encourage the judge to take control and manage the case from the very beginning;
- Assure that the attorneys (and their witnesses) are prepared; and
- Use the trial day well—no long breaks while the court handles something else.
These are all techniques that are already in use in many courtrooms across the country—but not all.
We at IAALS hope judges and attorneys are listening. Our legal system must work for the people. Those called to serve on juries are vital to our legal system. They, along with litigants, should have their time respected. To preserve the jury system, we need to be sure that the process is effective and efficient for everyone. Attorneys and judges are the ones who can achieve that goal.