Firm Blog

JURY DUTY: A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

Posted by: Victoria Santoro

I was reminded this week of the very noble underpinnings of our civil justice system. The jury system in our country is a national treasure, and one of the few remaining ways everyday citizens exercise one of their most immense powers.  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) highlighted the importance of the jury in his radio address this week, stating “The brilliance of our legal system is that it places judgment in the hands of everyday citizens.  Twelve complete strangers, from all walks of life, sit in a jury box, carefully weigh the evidence, and then reach an impartial verdict.”  Senator Sessions, and many other elected representatives, extol the virtues of the jury system, and Hollywood has frequently and famously portrayed the value of an impartial jury and the deliberation process.

Unfortunately, there is a great disconnect between these proclamations regarding the jury system and the efforts of our citizens to put this respect into practice.  Countless friends bemoan the dreaded notice of “jury duty” when they receive it in the mail.  But what are more worrisome are the well-funded but misguided campaigns to systematically dismantle the jury system.  When corporations and their CEOs act irresponsibly – by delaying or refusing to pay fair and just insurance claims, producing unsafe products, polluting our environment or swindling their employees and shareholders – the last resort for Americans to hold them accountable is in our courts.  Corporations, understanding this power that consumers hold, have attacked the civil justice system, trial attorneys and those who are injured through no fault of their own, in an effort to escape accountability.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist urged us to consider that “The right to trial by jury in civil cases at common law is fundamental to our history and jurisprudence.  A right so fundamental and sacred to the citizens…should be jealously guarded.” In the spirit of his words, we should all urge our family and friends to enjoy their jury duty, to realize what a special responsibility it is.  Merely showing up for jury duty can sometimes encourage multiple settlements, saving many thousands of dollars and freeing up judges to attend to their other work.  Do people realize that their mere presence is powerful enough to settle a case that has likely been in litigation for years?

Most importantly, being selected and serving on a jury allows one the greatest opportunity of all, to judge the merits of a case that mean a great deal to both the plaintiff and defendant.  As a juror, you have more input into the outcome of a case than any attorney, plaintiff, defendant or judge.  You are able to receive information impartially, and ultimately make a decision that could impact your local community, your state or potentially the entire country.  It is a rare moment when the power to decide a case resides with you.  We should rejoice at this incredible opportunity.

It is for this reason, to give power to our fellow citizens, that our founding fathers included the right to trial by jury in the bill of rights.  The 7th Amendment to the Constitution is at the very heart of our civil justice system.  It ensures that every citizen can get a fair fight even when the opponent is a large and very powerful corporation.  It is the jury system that ultimately, through the judgment of our fellow citizens, effects positive change in our society, like safer consumer products and workplace conditions.

During his years as a lawyer, Senator Sessions revealed, “I learned to trust the wisdom of these everyday citizens.”  We also should trust in the wisdom of our fellow citizens and ourselves, to realize the immense responsibility of serving on a jury, to weigh the facts, and to provide a considered and reasoned judgment on the merits of a case.

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