Are juries picked in Connecticut state civil courts any fairer than juries in every other state or federal civil court in the country, including the District of Connecticut, because they are selected using a system in which there is a statutory right to nonpanel individual voir dire, a system unique to Connecticut state trial courts? We think not, and we encourage attorneys to embrace panel voir dire jury selection in Connecticut state civil trial courts.
Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman and former state Supreme Court Justice David Borden marshal a compelling argument in support of panel voir dire in a relatively recent bar journal article. They observe that panel voir dire could still allow the lawyers to question each venire person individually, but in a panel, rather than separately from the other venire persons. Such a system would dramatically reduce the time it takes to pick a jury, with no discernible loss in the ability to pick fair jurors.
Connecticut state court litigants spend substantially more time picking jurors than those in any other state or federal court in the country. That may encourage settlement, but it also results in fewer civil jury trials, in this age of the vanishing jury trial. Yes, settlements are to be favored, but for the right reasons, one of which should not be that jury selection is too expensive and inconvenient.
We are not proposing statutory amendment mandating panel voir dire. That is just not realistic given the divisive nature of this issue among members of the bar. Rather, we are asking lawyers and judges to embrace voluntary panel voir dire.
There are advantages to panel voir dire vs. nonpanel voir dire beyond the savings in time and money. When asking the panel questions, you can observe how members interact with each other. You can observe who likely might be the foreperson, who might be a leader or a follower. Moreover, you do not have to exercise your peremptory challenges until you have spoken to all the jurors so that you are making more informed challenges than under the present system.
Try it. Go to a seminar where it is taught. Tell your clients it has real advantages. Start with a small case. If you have a soft-tissue injury case with minor injuries, where liability is not in dispute, does it make sense to spend three to four days of jury selection for a case that will be tried in one day and where the amount in dispute is less than $50,000? Or course not. We are well aware that in this land of steady habits, change does not come frequently or easily. But this is a change that makes sense, for more than one reason. •