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ALBANY � In its latest report on potential jury reforms, a committee of the New York State Bar Association strongly supports consent excusals and strongly opposes interim summations. Previously, the Committee on the Jury System came out against reductions in peremptory challenges and showed some interest in allowing jurors to submit witness questions to judges. The committee, chaired by Peter D. FitzGerald of FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth in Glens Falls, is weighing in on a number of jury reform issues it anticipates will be addressed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s Commission on the Jury System. That panel, headed by Mark C. Zauderer of Piper Rudnick, is expected to release its recommendations later this spring. In January, the State Bar panel issued an interim report dealing with some of the potential issues, and this month it released another addressing other matters that may be included in the Zauderer committee findings. “Our goal has been to balance the need for increased juror understanding with the obligation of maintaining fairness to all parties,” Mr. FitzGerald said. Mr. FitzGerald’s most recent analysis covers five issues: � Consent excusals. There is considerable interest in the bar and among the judiciary for allowing juror excusals by consent. Proponents say it would save time and eliminate unnecessary questioning if jurors clearly unacceptable to either side could be rejected through a consent challenge. Mr. FitzGerald’s committee endorses that concept, with the proviso that “consent challenges are not to be used as an avenue of improper and unlawful discrimination against a potential juror.” � Judicial supervision of voir dire. Currently, after judges open jury selection they are allowed to step back and play a less direct role in the process. They are also allowed to delegate some of their jury selection responsibilities to judicial hearing officers. The bar committee sees no reason to force judges to assume an active supervisory role over the entire voir dire. � Written charges. Some jury reform advocates favor providing jurors with a written copy of the charge. Legislation is pending that would amend Criminal Procedure Law �310.20 and give judges the discretion to hand out a full copy of its charge to a deliberating jury. Another proposed amendment to CPL �310.20 would permit judges to provide the jury with written instructions on the elements of a crime or the defenses. Mr. FitzGerald’s committee supports that legislation. � Interim summations. Legislation promoted by the judiciary would allow attorneys to deliver so-called “interim summations,” or short statements of commentary designed to offer context to evidence that has been or will be offered. The State Bar would not allow attorneys to address the jury midstream. Mr. FitzGerald said in the interim report that “such a device may serve to cause more confusion, rather than promoting greater clarity, by breaking the flow of the presentation of the case, evidence, witness questioning and related procedures in the course of the trial.” � Uniform procedures. To a large extent, procedures are determined locally by jury commissioners and other officials in the 62 counties. Consequently, procedures differ in key areas. For instance, in Manhattan, a juror not selected for a case one day is placed back in the pool for another voir dire. In other areas, once a juror goes through voir dire in one case, he or she has completed service. Mr. FitzGerald said surveys by his committee show strong support for retaining the current local autonomy. He said practitioners note that there are fundamental differences � and often for sound reasons � in the practical application of procedural rules upstate and downstate. His committee would retain the current flexibility instead of a one-size-fits-all solution to what survey respondents indicate is not a problem. The 17-member committee includes three attorneys who are simultaneously serving on the chief judge’s committee. They are Vincent E. Doyle III of Connors & Vilardo in Buffalo; Norman Goodman, the clerk of New York County; and Susan B. Lindenauer of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan.

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