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Together with voting, the American jury system forms the bedrock of our democratic society. Its health and vitality are absolutely essential to our continuing quest for equality and justice. America understands this. A public opinion poll commissioned by the American Bar Association shows that Americans overwhelmingly believe jury service is an important civic duty. Seventy-five percent would prefer to have their cases tried by a jury rather than a judge. However, the model does not always match expectations or goals. Only 53% of those who have served felt they were treated well by the courts and the attorneys. Reports across the country are recording declining response rates to jury summonses, some due to juror attitudes that their time is neither well spent nor respected. Some statistics are encouraging, however. In Los Angeles County, Calif., for example, the response rate has tripled since reforms began being implemented in 1997. To maintain the integrity of our legal system and our way of life, we must take steps to support jurors, to make their participation one that respects their time, intelligence and dignity and to recognize publicly the significance of jury trials as a core principle of our democracy. As the ABA has stressed in its efforts to highlight the role of jurors and jury trials in our justice system, “everybody has a role,” and we all have a responsibility to address the areas that cry out for attention. This is not someone else’s problem. In this time of mass media, celebrity justice, television and movie depictions of jurors and lawyers, increasing demands on professional and personal time, as well as complex cutting-edge legal issues, Americans want their privacy, their time and their intelligence respected. They deserve no less. We in the legal profession owe it to our fellow citizens to recognize the needs of our communities and address outdated and ineffective approaches to jury trials so that our legal system is responsive to the demands of the 21st century. Improving jurors’ experience The ABA has just adopted a set of modern jury principles designed to do just that-to improve jurors’ experience before, during and after trial, and to recognize their needs by promoting approaches that improve their understanding of the law and issues they are called on to resolve. We in the legal profession must now work together to implement the proposed principles, by encouraging our state courts and bar associations to use them as a means for positive change, and to recognize that we all gain when jurors are given all the appropriate tools to render justice. The new ABA jury principles recommend a number of steps that improve jury service. For example, they call on courts actively to protect juror privacy, to take measures to ensure that jurors’ time is used efficiently, to offer higher compensation for jury service, to allow mini opening statements and to encourage the imposition of reasonable time limits. The principles encourage greater juror participation by permitting jurors to take notes, letting them ask appropriate questions, providing them notebooks and preliminary jury instructions, allowing them more opportunities to discuss cases together and providing them with individual written instructions to take into the jury room when their real job begins. Implementing these principles will strengthen one of our most fundamental democratic institutions and reinforce Americans’ strong predisposition for jury trials. As members of the legal profession, we must be the advocates for these principles. By fortifying the foundation of our democracy, we will enable our great nation to remain a true champion of equality, justice and democracy at home and abroad. Everyone wins. Jacqueline Connor is a superior court judge in Los Angeles County, Calif. David Biderman is a partner in the Santa Monica, Calif., office of Seattle-based Perkins Coie and a member of the American Bar Association’s American Jury Project. The jury principles are available online at www.abanet.org/juryprojectstandards/principles.pdf.

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