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A tentative agreement was reached on the evening of June 19 to allow the administrative board of the state court system to promulgate standardized jury selection rules for civil trials throughout New York state. The agreement between the Office of Court Administration and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association was subject to a few final details, Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau ( See Profile) and Jeff S. Korek, president of the trial lawyers group, confirmed. Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, said she expected to introduce legislation in the next few days charging the administrative board with promulgating the jury selection rules. She said that she would not seek passage of the bill she is also sponsoring, A8964B, that would have imposed detailed jury selection rules on all civil courts in New York. New York Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo and Judge Pfau had expressed dismay before June 19′s tentative agreement that the legislation would impose guidelines on courts that were too time consuming and restrictive. “I think that this is a disaster for the justice system in this state, a disaster to justice and is absolutely inconsistent with the very constructive jury reforms that have been one of [Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s] major accomplishments,” Mr. Cardozo said about A8964B in an interview. Judge Pfau lobbied at the Capitol against the bill on June 19, the next-to-last regularly scheduled meeting of the Legislature in its 2008 regular session. Lawmakers are to be back in Albany Monday for their last day, though legislative leaders can extend the session for as long as they wish. While Mr. Cardozo and Judge Pfau sounded alarms about the bill, Senator John DeFrancisco said serious talks were also held between OCA and the trial lawyers to let the administrative board of the courts devise standards for jury selection in civil cases instead of imposing guidelines legislatively. The administrative board is comprised of Chief Judge Kaye and the four Appellate Division presiding justices. The Legislature settled last year on a similar approach when it began to set caseload limits for law guardians, then decided to defer to OCA and the administrative board. Ms. Weinstein, chairwoman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said, “I think generally, not just here, but in the law guardian issue and others, there are things that we would prefer to have by court rule. But that doesn’t preclude the Legislature from enacting such rules statutorily.” Judge Pfau said she was concerned that the jury selection procedures imposed by the Legislature would slow down the process and, in general thwart the chief judge’s efforts to make serving on juries more agreeable for prospective jurors. “We are concerned about it,” Judge Pfau said in an interview. “We are very clear that we think this particular bill [A8964B] would be a set back for jurors and would roll back the clock on all the reforms that we’ve made.” Among other things, the legislation would prohibit judges from considering statements by prospective jurors who profess bias but nevertheless believe they could serve in an unbiased manner. Those prospective jurors would have to be dismissed immediately, the bill stipulates. The legislation would also allow plaintiffs’ lawyers to appeal immediately, without waiting to the outcome of a trial, to the Appellate Division through Article 78 proceedings when they have issues with the manner of jury selection. The bill would allow judges to set time limits for the selection of jurors only after the process goes on for more than two court days. Mr. Cardozo said that that provision effectively would guarantee jury selection must take at least two days. The bill stipulates that both the plaintiff and defense lawyers would have to take turns using their peremptory challenges during jury selections. Gene DiSantis, a spokesman for the Trial Lawyers Association, said judges are inconsistent about alternating the use of challenges, sometimes causing plaintiffs’ attorneys to unfairly exhaust their challenges first. “We are looking to ensure a fair and reasonable process for all lawyers, plaintiff and defense, to do meaningful voir dire,” Mr. DiSantis said in an interview. Mr. Cardozo had also objected to the emergence of the bill in the hectic waning days of the legislative session. The bill has not undergone the vetting process before bar associations and other groups that it should, he argued. “How can a major change in jury procedure be adopted without consulting the relevant interested parties, including the city of New York, which picks more juries than any other entity in the state?” he asked yesterday. “No one has consulted with us.” Ms. Weinstein said that a form of the legislation has been before the Legislature since 2007. She said she has not solicited comments about the legislation from bar groups or the legal community. Mr. DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, is chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

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