When we at The Jury Expert saw Renée Lettow Lerner’s writing on the collapse of the civil jury system in the Washington Post as she guest-blogged for the Volokh Conspiracy it was clear the ideas she expressed were not ideas that resonated with our own experiences in the courtroom. So we asked her to write for our readers here at The Jury Expert and she graciously agreed. Professor Lerner discusses her perspective and a trial consultant (Susie Macpherson) and a well-known litigator (Tom Melsheimer) offer very different points of view.
After Professor Lerner’s thoughts on problems with the US justice system, we have an article on changes in the Swiss civil system as they moved to abolish jury trials. This article is by two Swiss scholars (Gwladys Gilliéron and Yves Benda) and an American scholar (Stanley Brodsky). It describes the existing Swiss system and how abolishing the civil jury trial changed (and did not change) the application of justice in Switzerland.
Shortly after Renée Lerner’s work in the Washington Post, Adam Benforado wrote an excerpt from his new book UNFAIR that was published at The Atlantic website and titled: “Reasonable Doubts About the Jury System: Trial consultants allow the affluent to manipulate the biases of those who judge them, putting justice up for sale”. As you might expect, the article isn’t likely to fit the point of view of most trial consultants, so his viewpoint is important for any trial consultant to understand. I contacted Professor Benforado, and invited him to write an article for us that addressed the issues he raised in The Atlantic. He agreed, in the face of knowing there was vigorous disagreement among trial consultants with the position he took in The Atlantic. His article elicited thorough responses from Diane Wiley (representing all trial consultants), Jason Barnes and Brian Patterson (representing visual trial consultants), and Stanley Brodsky (representing academic and research trial consultants).
Following those first three articles about problems in our justice system, Hailey Drescher (a trial consultant) offers an interview with Steve Susman (a well-known litigator) and Tara Trask (a trial consultant) on Susman’s new Civil Jury Project at New York University. This ambitious, long-range project is unlike anything that’s been done before in this country and will attempt to examine the civil jury trial and offer suggestions for improving it. Read the interview if you want to know more about this project or the upcoming conference they will be sponsoring.
Then we move on to other exciting new research and ideas on the jury system from here in the United States. Krystia Reed and Brian Bornstein (academic researchers) offer recommendations on how to use joinder differently if you are in a civil versus a criminal trial. Sonia Chopra and Charli Morris (trial consultants) respond to this article and offer insightful questions and suggestions on implementing the research. Richard Gabriel (a trial consultant) saw the issue of peremptory strikes in the New York Times (again) and provides us with new ways to think about strikes (both peremptory strikes and strikes for cause). Allen Campo (a trial consultant) describes a newer way he’s been helping attorneys understand their cases—he calls it a feedback group. And finally, Bill Grimes updates us on the research literature about deception—do we know how to tell who’s lying yet?
It’s an intriguing quandary—the numbers of civil juries are declining, yet there is a plethora of ideas, programs, research, and strategies for improving our ability to work together to improve litigation advocacy. Is our system dying? That is questionable, although it is undoubtedly changing, as it always has. The energy around these new and exciting ideas makes me think perhaps our system isn’t dying. It is merely evolving and thus has to face hard questions as a new definition of our justice system emerges.
The role of trial consultants has evolved over time, as well. The idea that the trial consulting profession contributes to bias (while most trial consultants feel they are in the business of rooting out bias, not creating it) produced deep reactions from responders who are members of the American Society of Trial Consultants. Many of the founders of the profession are still alive and actively practicing—trial consulting is a young profession. I appreciate the measured responses from our trial consultant members in this issue and I appreciate the generosity and courage shown by Renée Lettow Lerner and Adam Benforado in writing about and standing behind their convictions despite disagreement. Both their offerings and the thoughtful commentary by ASTC members give us all much to consider. Combined, these contributors keep The Jury Expert an intellectually and morally stimulating forum, for which we are all grateful.