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When The National Center for State Courts wants to get something done — like launching a program aimed at increasing jury participation — sometimes it relies on the kindness of lawyers. About a quarter of a million dollars of kindness. That was the amount raised mostly from law firms that recently jump-started the National Jury Program, a project of the National Center for State Courts’ Center for Jury Studies. The center expects to provide technical assistance to states to improve the conditions under which jurors work. That means helping states to combine 21st century technology with elemental aids and old-fashioned respect to make jury service more attractive, say center officials. “We finally got enough money to get started and we raised it through law firms,” said Gregory E. Mize, a retired District of Columbia Superior Court judge and a consultant to the national center. Part of Mize’s job is fund-raising. He cold-called dozens of law firms pitching what the firms stood to gain: better-equipped and happier jurors. But it was not an easy sell. Less than 20 percent of the firms contacted contributed money, Mize said. But Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, a 270-lawyer Minneapolis, Minn., firm, came up with $100,000, making it the top contributor. “We’re spending a lot of money on the ballot box, making it easier for people to vote, as we should,” said Robins Kaplan partner Michael Ciresi. “We believe that the jury box deserves the same type of attention. Jurors deal with people’s freedom and with great economic issues. There is an uneven quality of jury facilities and jury education and involvement across the nation.” Initially, the program will create the first nationwide compendium of jury practices, including each state’s requirements and discretionary practices. Only Maryland has been completely surveyed for what will be known as “State of the States.” Vermont and Maine will soon be completed, while 18 other states have begun the ponderous task of determining how judges exercise their discretion when it comes to jurors: Do they permit note-taking? Does each juror get a copy of jury instructions? Kansas City, Mo.’s Shook, Hardy & Bacon made the second-largest contribution, though neither the firm nor the national center will reveal the amount. “We have over 250 people who have tried cases in our firm,” said Victor Schwartz of Shook Hardy’s Washington office. “The purpose [of the program] is to aid jurors in making rational objective decisions. If you have a good jury, the experience is professionally rewarding, no matter what side you’re on.” Schwartz said that not everything can be legislated, and that courts need to share their best practices with each other so that “jurors don’t dread jury service like they’re going to the dentist. You don’t want jurors to be prohibited from taking notes, or courts not to allow an interim summation so that jurors don’t get lost.” Coincidentally, American Bar Association President Robert Grey Jr. began the American Jury Initiative last year. It has two parts: The American Jury Project, which has drafted a set of model jury standards that will come up for adoption at the ABA’s mid-year meeting in February, and the Commission on the American Jury, a jury education component. “The National Center for State Courts’ program demonstrates how a wide range of groups committed to improving our system of justice can work together toward this common goal,” Grey said in an e-mail. “State of the States” will inform those states that have not made many jury innovations of what the operational standards are around the country, said Tom Munsterman, the jury center’s director. “Then we’ll begin a pilot project in six states that will offer technical assistance that will utilize the improvements many states have already made,” Munsterman said. “This could include, among other things, judicial education, assisting with automation efforts, helping to improve courtroom procedures, and improving the comprehensibility of jury instructions.” When the pilot projects are completed, the program will move on to other states. “We’ve only raised half the money we anticipate needing,” he said. The Products Liability Advisory Council is the third-largest contributor, followed by Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis, Reed Smith, San Diego’s The Simmons Firm and a dozen others. The Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators govern the center.

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