X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
It was an unusually hectic September morning in Alpine County, Calif., Superior Court, and Presiding Judge Harold Bradford had a problem. Five litigants and their lawyers were packed into his courtroom in rural Markleeville just south of Lake Tahoe, ready to go to trial in a complex breach-of-contract case. But Bradford, whose mountainous county is the most sparsely populated in California, had run out of jurors. Nearly all 88 prospects in that week’s pool had been excused for one reason or another before a panel could be seated. So Bradford took an extraordinary step: He recalled jurors who had been dismissed a few months earlier. “If we had been subject to one day, one trial,” Bradford says, “we would not have been able to do that.” Bradford is referring to the state’s new “one day, one trial” jury system under which prospective jurors are called in for one day, then dismissed for at least a full year if not chosen for trial. Implemented 11 months ago, the program — recommended by the California Supreme Court’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Jury System Improvement — is aimed at making jury service easier for the public and thereby increasing the statewide response rate to jury summons. The new system is reportedly a hit with jurors who no longer have to endure a two-week standby, but there are a few doubters on the bench. Some judges fear that jury pools could go dry in thinly populated rural counties — where one big trial could drain an entire year’s jury pool — and in some urban counties like San Francisco — where complex litigation can eat up, and spit out, hundreds of jurors in a single day. “It doesn’t give us a lot of wiggle room if we have a lot of jury trials,” says Bradford, whose 1,180-resident county was granted a one-year exemption based on population constraints. There are also complaints about an accompanying new payment plan for jurors, which increased the daily per diem from $5 to $15 but provides no pay the first day. In rural counties, where most trials last one day, that means working for free — except for a miserly reimbursement for transportation costs. “In some cases,” says Sierra County Superior Court Presiding Judge William Pangman, whose county has 3,250 residents, “we’re cutting checks for 78 cents.” Change isn’t likely, even though there are no hard figures yet proving that one day, one trial works. For one, the anticipated cost savings of denying pay for the first day statewide are too great to ignore, and, for another, the new system is too popular with the public. “The jurors love it,” says Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dallas Holmes, who heads up the California Supreme Court task force that recommended one day, one trial. “Four out of five of the people we bring in on Monday are back at work on Tuesday.” Before one day, one trial, California counties based their jury systems on state statutes that established a framework for choosing jury pools, but gave some leeway on implementation. Most, however, functioned like San Francisco, where prospective jurors — picked from voter registration rolls or Department of Motor Vehicle lists — were on call for two consecutive five-day periods. Many people simply ignored their summons. Those who did show up could be asked to come in for voir dire on a few hours’ notice, and even get picked for a jury on their final day of service. Their reward was a measly $5 per day while in trial. That’s why California Chief Justice Ronald George, one of the chief proponents of the program, likes the new juror-friendly system. While he’s sympathetic about local troubles, he says he doesn’t plan to suggest wholesale changes. “There will undoubtedly be some difficulties in particular situations in coming up with enough jurors,” he says. “But I have to look at things from a statewide perspective. One day, one trial is an overwhelming success.” OVERALL SUCCESS Alpine County will likely find out if that’s true next year. A week-old report by the Virginia-based National Center for State Courts says the county could handle one day, one trial if exceptions are made for the rare large trial. That angers Bradford. If one day, one trial were in effect in Alpine County this year, he insists, he would have no jurors left for one of two criminal trials coming up this month. “Defense counsel probably would be entitled to a dismissal of the charge,” he says. “Is that really an improvement in the administration of justice?” Bradford’s isn’t a lone cry from the wilderness. Judges in other rural counties, where one day, one trial was mandated, say they have the same fears about exhausting their jury pools. Judge Pangman, whose Sierra County court is in tiny Downieville 130 miles northeast of Sacramento, says he was just plain lucky that two trials late this year were delayed. His juror pool of 1,200 was down to about 300. “I was concerned that if we had another trial that required a significant number of jurors, we might run out,” he says. “Then either we’d have to call people in again or move the trial to another venue.” Colusa County Superior Court Judge John Tiernan points out that the problem can be exacerbated in small counties because everyone knows nearly everyone else. Dismissals are inescapable. “The question I ask here is, ‘Is there anyone who doesn’t know anyone on the case?’ ” says Tiernan, whose county 70 miles north of Sacramento has 18,700 people. “ The answer we have is that nobody raises their hands.” Part of the problem, some say, is that one day, one trial — approved by legislators in 1998 — was geared toward solving an urban problem: Los Angeles County’s court system was in crisis because its residents’ response rate to jury summons had dropped to historic lows. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t work,” Bradford says. “What needs to be corrected in downtown Los Angeles is not always something that needs to be corrected in downtown Markleeville.” Ironically, Los Angeles County — the most populated in the United States — was the only California county besides Alpine that got an exemption for one day, one trial. The county, which has a jury pool of about 4 million but is lucky to draw 400,000, is phasing in the system over a couple of years to blunt the cost of converting its nearly 50 courthouses at one time. “We are very much in favor of doing it,” Presiding Judge Victor Chavez says, “but we have a long way to go.” Meanwhile, several counties have reported success with one day, one trial. “Our appearance rate went way up,” says Lynn Woods, deputy executive officer for the superior court of 200,000-resident Butte County. “Go figure that. We saw it happening and it surprised us.” Alameda County officials saw a 24 percent increase in the number of summons under the first six months of one day, one trial as opposed to the last six months of the former system. They also experienced a 5 percent increase in the number of jurors available to serve and a 5 percent drop in the number who were excused or disqualified. Superior Court Judge Julie Conger says Alameda County officials also tinkered with one day, one trial by breaking down their jury summons by actual need in a few of their larger courthouses. For example, rather than summoning 2,200 people on a Monday, Conger says, officials call about 700 that day, then an equal, or slightly lesser, number the next two days. “We don’t call in our jurors unless we specifically need them for a case,” says Conger, who heads up the county’s jury committee. “It’s a great innovation.” But even in counties where the system has worked — such as Butte and Tehama counties north of Sacramento and San Benito County south of San Jose — some worry that the vast number of juror dismissals this year could come back to haunt counties next year. “If our trials increase a lot, we might have a problem,” says Sarah Bertine, San Benito’s deputy jury commissioner. “If the workload changes or the type of trials change,” Tehama County Superior Court Presiding Judge Dennis Murray agrees, “we might not have enough jurors to meet the rule requirements.” ‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE’ San Francisco, meanwhile, has to contend with the fact that it’s the state’s mecca for asbestos cases — complex litigation that Superior Court Presiding Judge Alfred Chiantelli says has required calling in 200 to 300 prospective jurors at a time. But, he notes, of the 128 asbestos cases set for trial so far, only 13 have gone to verdict. “It means a lot are dismissed or settled, and some of these cases are only settled after the plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers have seen the whites of the jurors’ eyes,” Chiantelli says. “Then under one day, one trial, we lose those jurors for one year. What an economic waste. What a loss.” Judge Holmes of Riverside County says judges need to keep in mind that one day, one trial and other jury improvements are aimed at bettering life for the public, not making things more convenient for court personnel. “We can’t treat jurors like pens and pencils, like court supplies,” he says. In that spirit, Holmes says, judges should continue urging legislators to increase juror pay to the $40 per day sought, and denied, two years ago. “The most important single thing we can do is get juror pay up to the federal level,” he says. “Everyone agrees it’s too low.” It’s not just California that’s trying to improve life for jurors. G. Thomas Munsterman, the Arlington, Va.-based director of the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Jury Studies, says that about 40 percent of the U.S. population now lives in counties with one day, one trial systems. Yet Munsterman has some sympathy for small counties, referring to three months ago when Alpine County ran through 88 jurors. “That’s 10 percent of [the county's] population,” he says. “If all those people had been summoned [under one day, one trial], it would have made things difficult for next year and the rest of this year.” Even so, Munsterman released a report last week recommending that Alpine County implement one day, one trial. Judge Bradford has little choice but to comply, although he insists one day, one trial won’t work well in Alpine County. He also contends that forcing the idea on counties undermines the very goal of appeasing potential jurors. “We are justifiably proud in Alpine County that we have devised a jury summons system that is overwhelmingly favored by our citizens,” Bradford says. “To impose the NCSC and Judicial Council pet project of one day, one trial and offend our citizens is clearly counterproductive to efforts to improve relations between court and community.” Bradford adds, “As the late Sen. Everett Dirksen often said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ “

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.