A Beacon of Justice

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In a world where the rule of law is increasingly embraced around the world as an antidote to tyranny and oppression, the American jury system shines as a beacon of justice and an opportunity for citizens to participate in their own governance. High­lighting and improving this cornerstone of America’s justice system has been a principal focus of the ABA over the past two years.

In August 2004, then-ABA President Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Va., launched the American Jury Initiative to strengthen the jury as one of our nation’s most important democratic institutions and enhance public understanding of its fundamental role in our system of law and government.

In a two-pronged approach, Grey established the Commission on the American Jury, which was designed to undertake outreach and public education about jury service as a high calling of citizenship, and the American Jury Project, which was created to update the various existing ABA jury principles and incorporate them into one set of model principles for jury service. As a result, the ABA Principles for Juries and Jury Trials were adopted as policy by the House of Delegates in February 2005.

Last August the Board of Governors extended the commission’s existence in order to promote the ABA jury principles and to continue outreach on the importance of jury service and jury improvement. Now chaired by Judge Louraine C. Arkfeld of Tempe, Ariz., the Com­mission on the American Jury Project has carried forward the superb momentum of the initial groups. A number of outreach projects are currently under way.

Under the leadership of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Bar Association, seven specific procedural concepts were selected from the ABA jury principles, which judges and lawyers tested during trials between October 2005 and March 2006. The concepts address 12-member juries, jury selection questionnaires, preliminary substantive jury instructions, trial time limits, questions by the jury during trial, interim statements to the jury by counsel, and enhanced jury deliberations. During the testing, federal courts in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin used the concepts in civil jury trials. Briefing papers on each of the issues were provided to support those using the innovations, and the courts conducted evaluations of how they worked in practice. Results will be presented at the 7th Circuit bar’s annual meeting and judicial conference May 21-23. The testing is of great importance to the work of the Commission on the American Jury Project in shedding light on the value and feasibility of the proposed procedures and will serve as an excellent model for others who want to try these innovations.

Principles Put to the Test

On Oct. 26 and 27, the commission and Southern Methodist University will host a symposium on the American jury. As with the initial October 2004 symposium, participants will include judges, lawyers, academics, jury experts, court administrators, bar leaders and others involved in jury reform and enhancement. Rep­resentatives from the 7th Circuit will report on their experiences in testing the jury principles, experts will provide the latest empirical research on juries, and the commission and others will present the results of other initiatives that have taken place since the revised principles were adopted in February 2005.

Among other pilot projects, the Hous­ton-based law firm of Vinson & Elkins is working with the state of Texas to increase public participation and ensure diversity in the jury pool–an important project that the commission supports and that will also be a key feature of this fall’s symposium. Jury diversity and participation are critical issues for all jurisdictions throughout the U.S.

To ensure comprehensive national outreach, the commission has developed a master calendar of conferences and programs at which it might speak about the ABA jury principles and where it might encourage further pilot projects. Since August 2005, commissioners have addressed several state bar and judicial conferences to encourage pilot projects wherever feasible. The civil liti­gation section of the Pennsylvania Bar As­sociation is planning to implement pilot innovations in the state’s jury system. This month, Judge Arkfeld will address the New York Bar Foundation Fellows at their meeting, which will also be attended by representatives from New Jersey and Connecticut.

To download the jury principles or find more information on the Commission on the American Jury Project, visit www.abanet.org/juryprojectstandards/home.html. If you would like to initiate a pilot project in your area, contact Judge Arkfeld at [email protected].

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