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Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye ended a three-day conference on jury reform last Saturday morning with a ringing call to nearly 200 judges and court administrators assembled at the Marriott Marquis Hotel to “go home” and “go forward.” “Jury Summit 2001,” as the conference jointly organized by the Office of Court Administration and the National Center for State Courts was called, “opened on Broadway” and “will have a long and successful run for jury reform,” Judge Kaye told the delegates. All told, 400 people attended Jury Summit 2001, including 200 judges, 100 court administrators and 50 lawyers, OCA reported. Also attending were a number of law professors and jurors. The judges and court administrators included top officials of court systems in 43 states and 20 federal judicial districts. Two of the guests were judges from Japan and Korea. Starting last Thursday morning, the delegates attended 25 sessions addressing important policy issues and technical matters related to jury reform. They also heard lunchtime addresses on Thursday and Friday from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and CBS anchorman Dan Rather, in which both described how moving and important their experiences as jurors had been. The broader policy issues included creating a democratic jury system; promoting public support for jury service; juror privacy as opposed to the public’s right to know; how Hollywood portrays juries; reducing juror hardships; and jury issues in death penalty and “notorious” cases, including mass tort lawsuits. Some of the more technical sessions dealt with what type of lists can be used to produce a fair cross-section of the community; the use of exit surveys; new techniques for communicating with jurors; and innovative procedures, including juror note-taking, submission of questions to jurors and interim summations in complex trials. NEW YORK’S REFORMS New York State embarked on a comprehensive program to improve the quality of jury service with Chief Judge Kaye’s appointment of a blue-ribbon panel in 1993. Since then, New York has dramatically expanded its jury pool, a step that has reduced the frequency with which persons are summoned to jury duty. In 1994, legislation was passed adding recipients of welfare and unemployment insurance to the list from which jurors are drawn. The new law added a half a million people to the pool available for jury service. In 1995, the State Legislature eliminated several occupations long exempt from jury service, including lawyers, judges, pharmacists and embalmers. The net result has been, according to OCA, that “virtually statewide” citizens are now summoned to jury duty only once every two years. And instead of having to serve for two weeks, jurors only have to serve for one day or one trial. OTHER INNOVATIONS Other reforms that have been introduced in New York include allowing for a “blind” system, under which jurors will not know whether they will be excused as “alternates” until a trial is completed and deliberations are about to begin; new rules authorizing judges to approve note-taking by jurors in certain situations; and the reduction of peremptory challenges in civil cases to three per side from three per party. Another state that has been a leader in jury reform has been Arizona. At the closing session of Jury Summit 2001, Arizona’s chief judge, Thomas Zlaket, said that many had reacted to his state’s new procedures allowing jurors to question witnesses and to discuss the evidence before deliberations start. Some, he said, called it “wacky.” While every reform may not turn out to be a good one, Zlaket said, it is critical to push forward with changes that “treat jurors like adults” and are “respectful of their time.” But he said unless judges and court administrators “reject the explanation that things are done a certain way because ‘they have always been done that way,’ we are going to fall farther and farther behind.” Chief Judge Elizabeth Weaver of Michigan added that it is important to explore ways of compensating jurors, especially those self-employed in small businesses, for the economic loss they incur on jury duty. Several judges also expressed the importance of meeting informally with jurors at the end of emotionally draining cases, even if there were some legal risks involved. Judge Dana M. Levitz, of the 3rd Judicial Circuit in Maryland, said making a decision about another person’s life is “a unique experience” for most jurors, and can be terribly stressful. Levitz said jurors who had chosen the death penalty in capital cases have told him that they felt the experience left them mentally unbalanced. “It really helps for the judge to tell the jurors in an informal setting,” Levitz said, that “what you did was fine.” He said that the relief such a session brings to jurors is well worth the risk that a juror might say something to compromise a verdict or create a problem should some aspect of the case return to the judge in the future.

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