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Four words define the purpose of the American Bar Association: defending liberty, pursuing justice. You will see these words beneath the ABA logo, on our stationery and membership cards. But “defending liberty, pursuing justice” is more than a high-minded slogan. It is the very essence of why the ABA exists and why I originally sought, and am now privileged to become, the association’s president. To be sure, the ABA also represents the lawyers’ personal and professional interests as well. A vast array of programming is designed to directly promote the legal profession. But what distinguishes the ABA from traditional trade associations is our wider purpose: to advance the cause of justice. This is why my esteemed predecessors in the post of ABA president dedicated their terms in office to such matters as judicial independence, ethics, legal assistance to developing nations, accessibility to the legal system, diversity and a whole host of other projects that not so much champion the profession as champion the ideals that underpin the profession. The ABA does this on behalf of our members, state and local bar association partners and, most of all, on behalf of our country, whose greatest triumph and most important export is the application of justice to the everyday life of its citizens. So as I begin my own term as president, I will focus on an area that is as vital to the administration of justice and in need of review and reinvigoration as any other-the American jury system. Few activities in our civic life involve as many people, have as great an effect on or represent as direct a contact point to the workings of our democracy as jury service. There are more than 80,000 jury trials in this country every year. Nearly a million Americans serve on a jury each year. More than five times that number show up at their local courthouse to report for jury duty. Suffice it to say, jury service is a significant part of our civic life. In fact, besides voting, few activities in the life of the typical American offer this kind of direct contact with our democracy. Yet, despite how common jury service is, jurors themselves mostly serve without ambition; that is, they are called, appear in court, serve if selected and then go home. This temporary and often brief encounter with the jury system means that jurors, as a group, are not connected to the system in a long-term way. As such, there is no natural constituency of jurors. Lawyers and judges, on the other hand, spend most of their professional lives inside the trial-by-jury apparatus, so their concerns about the process and the means necessary to perform their function are the subject of great visibility and consideration. And this is entirely appropriate. Yet the fleeting nature of jury service means that jurors’ interests are discussed and considered less often, even though their role is as important to the administration of justice. Jurors’ perceptions An analysis of the data suggests that the American public is not engaged with either the principles or the process of jury service to the degree that it should be. Response rates to jury summonses are in many cases unacceptably low. The public is too often misinformed about jury service, perceiving it negatively, as an inconvenience to avoid. Once potential jurors reach the courthouse, they often find that the support structure to assist them in their work is insufficient (with low pay, erratic trial procedure and uneven employee support). The system is far from broken; juries continue to perform their duties with diligence and accuracy. However, the time has come to give the jury its due, to begin paying closer attention to ways we can support the juror so that each empanelled group will be a true representation of the community, have the tools necessary to consume information, deliberate constructively and deliver a just verdict confidently-all with the respect commensurate with their service and responsibility. To this end, I have appointed two important groups to focus on the jury system and on jurors themselves. First, the ABA Commission on the American Jury will be a national outreach effort to improve the public’s perception of jury service. Through various activities and mediums, the commission will speak to the American public, corporations and public policy decision-makers, on the necessity for a healthy and supportive environment for jurors to perform their vital responsibility. This outreach will take many forms and the creativity and experience of the commission members will be put to full use to develop innovative approaches. Honorary chair of the commission is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The co-chairs of the commission are Judith S. Kaye, chief judge of the state of New York; Manny Sanchez, a practicing lawyer in Chicago; and Oscar Criner, an engineer and former jury foreman of Houston. Second, members of the American Jury Project will examine specific standards and best practices of jury service. Currently, the ABA has a significant body of work related to jury standards, and this group will be tasked with the review and updating of these standards. The newly drafted standards will be considered by the ABA House of Delegates in February 2005 and, if adopted, will become ABA policy. The American Jury Project is chaired by Patricia Lee Refo of Phoenix, a practicing attorney. When lawyers extend themselves to the task of advancing causes beyond our own self interest, we make a statement. It is the statement that as lawyers, we are first and foremost public servants. I look forward to our profession becoming a protector and champion of the great American juror. In doing so, we play a part in advancing our ultimate purpose, to defend liberty and pursue justice. Robert J. Grey Jr. is the incoming president of the ABA. He is a partner in the Richmond, Va., office of Hunton & Williams.

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