July 06, 2006

Nationally debated reforms to the American jury system – including twelve person juries, questions by the jury during trial and trial time limits – were discussed during a panel session for the 55th Annual Meeting of the 7th Circuit Bar Association and Judicial Conference of the Seventh Circuit.  Serving as panel members for the meeting included members of The 7th Circuit American Jury Project Commission Jenner & Block Partner Terri L. Mascherin, along with U.S. District Court Judge Charles N. Clevert and Professor Stephan A. Landsman from the DePaul University College of Law.

According to the panelists, these and other innovations are being tested in courtrooms across the country as a way to improve the jury experience and to enable jurors to make the best decision possibly in today's complex, often technical commercial trials.

Allowing the jury to ask questions during trial was a major topic of conversation during the meeting. Panelists agreed that giving jurors this ability could take away from the attorney's strategic arguments but could potentially enable the jurors to feel empowered. Judge Clevert said that allowing questioning works successfully when a judge controls and limits questions to very relevant topics so as not to create a distraction and allow the trial to run on to great lengths. 

Ms. Mascherin emphasized the importance for a jury to know how long a trial will last in order to plan accordingly for work and family purposes.  She said that if judges impose time management discipline with lawyers, then the judge can confidently inform the jury as to when the trial will end.

As for giving questionnaires to jurors pre-trial, Ms. Mascherin felt that jurors may answer questions about their background more candidly on a questionnaire rather than in person, while Professor Stephan Landsman discussed the fact that a questionnaire could potentially provide less insight to jurors backgrounds as opposed to face-to-face questioning. 

The 7th Circuit American Jury Project Commission is an initiative established by the 7th Circuit Bar Association to review the American Bar Association's proposed reforms aimed at strengthening the jury system in both criminal and civil trials. The comission's goal was to explore the state of the jury system by collecting feedback from judges, lawyers, litigants and jurors. 

From July 2005 through May 2006, the Commission has been responsible for promoting and testing the recommendations made by the ABA's American Jury Project, a group charged with reviewing and updating the ABA standards on the jury system.

Pictured: Jenner and Block Partner Terri L. Mascherin stands with Professor Stephan A. Landsman from the DePaul University College of Law before speaking at the panel on jury trial management.