The constitutional design of our federal government requires an independent judicial branch to serve as a check on the executive and legislative branches.  That constitutional design, embodied in the separation of powers and dependent upon an independent federal judiciary is now being threatened by the automatic budget cuts to the judicial branch mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The framers of the Constitution did not contemplate that our three branches of government would operate completely independent of one another.  However, implicit in the constitutional design of the federal government is the obligation to adequately fund the judicial branch to fulfill its constitutional role.  Unfortunately, however, we are nearing the point where additional funding cuts to the judicial branch will hamper its ability to carry out its constitutionally-assigned functions.  

In his 2012 year-end report, Chief Justice John Roberts explained the federal judicial branch stands in a markedly different position from the other branches of government when it comes to mandated funding cuts:

Virtually all of the Judiciary’s core functions are constitutionally and statutorily mandated.  Unlike executive branch agencies, the courts do not have discretionary programs they can eliminate or projects they can postpone.  The courts must resolve all criminal and civil cases that fall within their jurisdiction, often under tight time constraints.  A significant and prolonged shortfall in judicial funding would inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for the people the courts serve.  

The sequester will require the federal judiciary to cut $332 million dollars, or approximately 5% from its operating budget for the current fiscal year.  Complicating the problem is that current fiscal year ends on September 30th, and the federal government was already five months into its fiscal year when the sequester went into effect.  

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts recently imposed emergency cost-cutting measures throughout the federal court system as a result of the sequester.  Those measures include a possible suspension of civil jury trials in September, a 30% cut in funding for court security systems and equipment, as well as a reduction in the hours worked by court security officers.  Additionally, up to 2,000 employees could be either laid off or face mandatory furloughs during the remainder of this fiscal year.  These staffing cuts would be in addition to the loss of 1,800 court staff over the last 18 months.  

The federal judiciary was already severely underfunded before sequestration’s mandated budget cuts went into effect.  For 2012, the federal judicial branch’s fiscal appropriation amounted to two-tenths of one percent of the total federal budget.  That means for every dollar of tax revenue received by the federal government, less than two-tenths of a penny was spent on our judicial branch.  

Under its decentralized management system, each federal court has some discretion over how the required funding cuts will be implemented.  So, for instance, several months ago the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois announced that if the sequester went into effect he would be forced to close the federal courts in Chicago and Rockford one day a week until the end of September.  In the Southern District of New York, the Chief Deputy Clerk recently explained that the District’s Bankruptcy Courts have started to re-use the blank sides of legal briefs as copier paper so that money normally spent on office supplies can be used for wages and salaries of court staff.  This is just the start of the sequester’s impact on the operations of the federal court system.

We may not feel the full squeeze of the budget sequester immediately, but the longer it remains in place, the greater will be its impact on those who seek access to justice.  The size of the automatic cuts mandated by the sequester increases in future years.  Sequestration threatens the protection of fundamental constitutional rights by hampering the ability of federal courts to protect those rights and deliver justice in a timely manner.  Backlogs and delays are now inevitable.  Federal speedy-trial requirements in criminal cases means those matters will be given priority over civil lawsuits.  Citizens seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights and businesses hoping for a timely resolution of complicated disputes will be put on hold.  

Access to justice, an independent federal judiciary, and the separation of powers may seem like abstract concepts. However they are the bulwarks on which our federal court system was built.  In a democracy, justice simply cannot be treated as an expendable luxury in tough economic times.  As one court explained:

[T]he availability of constitutional rights does not vary with the rise and fall of account balances in the Treasury.  Our basic liberties cannot be offered and withdrawn as “budget crunches” come and go, nor may they be made contingent on transitory political judgments regarding the advisability of raising or lowering taxes, or pragmatic or tactical decisions about how to deal with the perennial problem of the national debt.  In short, constitutional rights do not turn on the political mood of the moment, the outcome of cost/benefit analyses or the results of economic or fiscal calculations. Rather, our constitutional rights are fixed and immutable …. The constitutional mandate that federal courts provide civil litigants with a system of civil jury trials is clear.  There is no price tag on the continued existence of that system, or on any other constitutionally-provided right. (Armster v. U.S. Dist. Court for the Cent. Dist. of Cal. 792 F.2d 1423, 1429 9th Cir. 1986.)

Under our democratic system of government, the federal courts stand as the guardian of the rights of all citizens.  Because the sequester threatens the ability of our federal courts to protect the rights of citizens, and to serve as an effective check on the legislative and executive branches of federal government, we are seeing the first signs of a constitutional crisis looming on the horizon.  Critical to the ordered liberty of American democracy is an independent judiciary.  That independence is now challenged by mandatory budget cuts.  If the legislative and executive branches of the federal government refuse to fund the federal judiciary to a level needed to adequately fulfill its constitutional function, then the separation of powers mandated by our Constitution will be fractured.

Steven Puiszis is a member DRI’s Board of Directors and Chair of the DRI Judicial Task Force.  He is a partner in the Chicago office of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.  He was Editor of DRI’s latest publication on judicial independence, Without Fear or Favor in 2011, available at: http://www.luc.edu/law/media/law/news/pdfs/1794745.pdf.
Bookmark and Share

 

Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admissibility of demonstrative evidence at trial, assuming that evidence is determined to be relevant under Rule 401. Pursuant to Rule 403, a demonstrative exhibit may be excluded from the courtroom if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its unfair prejudice, its cumulative nature or if it is confusing or misleading.

Does the exhibit (1) relate to a piece of admissible substantive proof; (2) fairly and accurately reflect that substantive proof; and (3) is it sufficiently explanatory or illustrative to assist the jury? These are the questions used to establish a proper foundation for use at trial.

In addition, the exhibit should convey what it is designed to convey. For example, a computer enhanced photograph should not make an accident scene look better or worse than it actually was. Similarly, the demonstrative evidence should convey representational accuracy. The scale, dimensions and contours of the underlying evidence should all be accurately depicted. Today more than ever, the creative use of software permits trial counsel to manipulate demonstrative exhibits in ways often difficult to spot.

In an excellent article titled, “5 Demonstrative Evidence Tricks and Cheats to Watch Out For,” Ken Lopez, fouinder of A2L Consulting, provides a useful guide for spotting misleading charts and explains why they are misleading. Lopez discusses five such tricks (which are somewhat difficult to convey without having all of the graphics Lopez uses in his article to illustrate his points):

1. The Slippery Scale. This trick involves setting the the vertical y-axis on a graph in a narrow range that does not include “0.” By not including “0,” it is easy to make a relatively small change look enormous.

2. Compared to what? If the trial lawyer seeks to demonstrate a small change on a percentage basis, all he needs to do is carry the horizontal x-axis so that time is literally “on his side”

3. The Percentage Increase Trick. How many times have you heard someone talk about a 200% or 300% increase and really wonder what they mean? 

4. Tricking the Eye with 3D Charts. Flat charts with no depth or 3D aspect are harder to trick the viewer with, so always scrutinize your opponent’s charts when a third dimension is introduced. On a pie chart, when a slice of the pie (e.g., the percentage of customers injured by a purportedly defective product) is closer to the viewer, it looks much bigger.

5. Misleading Emotional Imagery. Putting an image of a homeless person in the background of a chart about increasing homelessness is designed to evoke emotion. Similarly, showing an oil-covered bird in the background in an explanation of how much oil was spilled in an accident does not add to one’s understanding of the amount of oil spilled, but seeks to trigger an emotional response in the viewer.

Perhaps the single most important Rule 403 objection you can make in a jury trial is the exhibit’s capacity to generate an emotional response such as pity, revulsion or contempt. Under these circumstances, the capacity to evoke emotion far outweighs the value of the evidence on the issues before the court and exclusion is appropriate.

As originally posted on January 9, 2013 in Toxic Torts Litigation Blog
 
Bookmark and Share

 

Introduction

Cases can be won and lost on voir dire. Success in jury selection relies on an attorney's interpersonal skills, mainly an attorney's ability to stand in front of a group of strangers and convince them that he or she is to be trusted.

While jurors are influenced by external factors such as knowledge of the case. More important are the internal factors, including their own past experiences and psychology. Internal factors are not only highly influential, but are also immeasurable, as the jurors themselves typically cannot explain their influence nor are they even aware of those influences. As a result, these internal factors are all too often overlooked.

Diversity Matters
First we must be honest about the reality of voir dire. While it is, in fact, the process by which biased jurors are removed from the juror pool with aspirations of producing a "fair and impartial jury," an attorney does not leave the role of advocate at the courtroom door when commencing voir dire. Being an advocate means that if an attorney believes that a juror is biased in his or her favor, that attorney will try to keep that juror.

Diversity is more than just race – it means valuing differences such as ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Investing in diversity goes beyond mere stereotyping, such as assuming an injured plaintiff wants a jury composed only of liberal-minded, soft-hearted, and generous people. Rather than focusing on generic stereotypes, attorneys should accept that as advocates, they are seeking a jury most favorable to their case. Attorneys must recognize that this begins with how the jury feels about the advocates. In turn, law firms must encourage their attorneys to use their diversity to relate to jurors as part of being zealous advocates for clients.

Diversity in a law firm allows a firm to empower its clients. A diverse trial team has many advantages, as not only is there is a visual benefit of the jury seeing a diverse team, but it also allows the trial team to be strategic. A firm with diversity among its attorneys can decide on a moment's notice who is best suited for voir dire based on jury makeup. If jurors believe that an attorney is a relatable figure, they are more likely to be candid in their responses during voir dire, and to trust that attorney more than the opponent throughout the trial.

Where Attorneys Unnecessarily Limit Themselves
While the peremptory challenge is a legal tool used to remove biased jurors, empirical data shows that many jurors who actually sit for trials are influenced by prejudices and biases. Despite this fact, attorneys often struggle with the importance of addressing how race and gender-based stereotypes inevitably affect people's judgment and decision-making which can result in losing juror biased in the client's favor.

Much of this failure to capitalize on jurors' favorable biases is due to the fact that freedom to select the perfect jury has its limits. The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that a defendant in a civil suit has the right to a fair trial, by an impartial jury. Furthermore, in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) the U.S. Supreme Court made it illegal to reject jurors on the basis of race. The Court determined that a man is entitled to be tried by a jury which represents a cross section of his community, and reasoned this could not be accomplished by rejecting jurors based on their race.

As a result, some argue that attempting to explicitly use one's race or gender to gain favor with a potential juror would likely cross the line established in Batson, believing it is unconstitutional to use a potential juror's diversity as the basis for a peremptory challenge. However, this extrapolation has limited attorneys unnecessarily, as Batson and its progeny regard excluding a juror on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. As set forth below, there are a myriad of ways diversity can be utilized within constitutional bounds.

Proponents of intentionally maximizing diversity in their legal teams argue that it is unethical for a defense lawyer to disregard what is known about the influence of race and sex on juror attitudes in order to comply with Batson. "The ethical obligation to comply with Batson conflicts with the ethical obligation of defense attorneys to vigorously defend their clients: The task of the lawyer, therefore, is to outsmart the system--to figure out the demographics of justice and to manipulate it during jury selection by eliminating jurors with the so-called wrong personal characteristics." Abbe Smith, "Nice Work if You Can Get It": "Ethical" Jury Selection in Criminal Defense, 67 Fordham L. Rev. 523, 524-28 (1998).

The importance of eliminating jurors with biases against your case is consistent with public sentiment. A 2008 Harris Poll showed that less than three in five Americans believe juries can be fair and impartial all or most of the time. Just Under Three in Five Americans Believe Juries Can Be Fair and Impartial All or Most of the Time, Harris Poll, Jan. 21, 2008. And it isn't just public opinion - empirical data supports the notion that many jurors who actually sit for trials are influenced by prejudices and biases.

This should not be surprising, as attorneys themselves are similarly influenced. Attorneys have all learned stereotypes from their culture and environment. When a lawyer sees a potential juror, he or she will almost instantaneously categorize that person on the basis of age, race or sex. Often unconscious of the stereotyping, an attorney will pay greater attention to information given by that juror that confirms their expectations. Studies have also shown that information that confirms expectations based on a stereotype will be recalled more easily, and any ambiguous information will be interpreted to conform to that expectancy. Antony Page, Batson's Blind-Spot: Unconscious Stereotyping and the Peremptory Challenge, 85 B.U. L. Rev. 155, 228 (2005).

As jurors make the same categorizations about the attorneys conducting voir dire, using diversity within a trial team to elicit favorable characterizations should be a focus of voir dire questioning. Questions that provide information that not only reinforces, but makes the jurors' inherent biases apparent to the legal team, should be an intentional focus. In doing so, there is a greater probability that those jurors with biases in favor of your case can be retained, and those whose biases do not favor your side can be challenged.

The Ultimate Goal – Getting the Juror You Need
Conducting a successful voir dire has as much to do with the manner in which questions are presented by an attorney as the questions themselves. The importance of connecting with the jury on a personal level can not be overstated.

One of the best ways an attorney can connect to a juror is to identify commonalities between the juror and attorney to establish a connection prior to trial. In the same way, jurors that see an attorney as similar to themselves will make attributions to the attorney such as the trustworthiness of that attorney. Capitalizing on similarities can be as simple as a slight, subtle change in dialect when greeting jurors. An African American female attorney who has tried many cases explained that she intentionally tailors her greeting to reflect the characteristics of the juror. When she greets a middle aged Caucasian woman, she might simply say "Good morning Ms. Morgan" to reflect that she is polite, articulate and trustworthy. When greeting an African American woman, she might use a more causal "How are you doing Ms. Morgan?" to reflect a familiarity that is conveyed to that juror by the dialect and tone of her greeting. In instances like this, what is said is not as important as using cultural mannerisms to communicate with the prospective juror.

Other techniques can be even more subtle, but highly effective, such as a slight change in an attorney's demeanor, or even just making a connection through eye contact. An African American male attorney explained that African Americans tend to communicate with their eyes. When walking down a street, it is a part of their culture to do a head nod of recognition when they see another African American. Therefore, when he sees black jurors, he makes a point of looking them in the eye for a bit longer so that commonality and understanding exists between them.

In another instances, a female Latina attorney who practiced in Laredo, Texas stated she appreciated the opportunity she received solely because of her Hispanic background. She was taken to trial very early on in her career because the jury pool was composed of mostly Hispanic people and her firm recognized the value her heritage had with the jury. During voir dire she made a point of introducing herself with her natural accent so that the jurors recognized that she was one of them.

While keeping suggestions like these in mind, an attorney must be careful not to alienate other jurors in this process. Attorneys for the defense have a particular advantage in this regard, as they conduct their examinations after the Plaintiff. Therefore, they retain the benefits of the knowledge derived from the prior examination, and consequently can incorporate this into more targeted questions to find commonalities among the trial attorney and the remaining jurors. Defense attorneys who are diverse also have the advantage of switching the attorney conducting voir dire at the last moment if something is revealed during plaintiff's questions that reveals a better match exists.

Although many attorneys are aware of the importance of posing questions relating to bias and life experience during voir dire, a great deal discount the importance of relating the similarities they find to themselves. This practice can be invaluable, but requires law firms to have already made a commitment to diversity. If a law firm is lacking in diversity, it is lacking in its ability to provide the best representation for its clients.

While some firms have begun to tailor their trial teams to be more diverse, many have not. Firms are still composed largely of white males, where minorities account for only 5.4% of partners, and 18.1% of associates. Minority women account for less than 2% of partners and 10% of associates. This places firms who have failed to invest in diversity at a distinct disadvantage when connecting with any jury. Survival of any business enterprise in today's world requires that the dialogue be open and honest about diversity. Recognizing the importance of diversity and making a commitment to it can only strengthen the success amongst law firms within the legal community. When we look at the jury pool today, we no longer see a majority of any one race, gender, or socioeconomic status. We see the melting pot we have become and a successful firm is armed with the ammunition to relate to that melting pot.

Stacy L. Douglas, Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman
Bookmark and Share

 

As to whether the punishment fit the crime in the imposition of punishment on current student-athletes and coaches that had no fault here, it is difficult to equate Jerry Sandusky's heinous actions and subsequent cover-up with standard NCAA violations that go to competitive advantage. Therefore, I can see why many people are having trouble with the punishment being levied against the innocent members of the football program in Happy Valley. Let's put that aside for the moment, though, to clear away some of what I consider to be misinformation and misinterpretations of this latest NCAA headline. In addition to punishment itself, Mark Emmert's executive declaration of Penn State's punishment on Monday left many on the sidelines enraged over (1) a lack of "due process" and (2) setting a bad precedent for future NCAA enforcement matters. As to (1), "due process" is not accorded to member institutions in the NCAA process, and I do not believe that (2) should concern current and future alleged rule-breakers in standard areas of violation such as recruiting, benefits, academic eligibility, amateurism, etc.


As to the due process issue, the NCAA administrative law process does not accord Federal or state constitutional due process protection for those parties that go through enforcement proceedings, be it student-athlete reinstatement (SAR) or infractions. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the NCAA is not a governmental actor and thus is not obligated to provide due process. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 179 (1988). The NCAA is a private association made up of members that include schools and conferences. Those schools and conferences agreed to abide by the Association rules, including potential punishments for violations of Association rules, analogous to a country club and its members. (Bylaw 3.3.4.1). Schools and conferences are voluntary members of the NCAA, and therefore must abide by the associated rules and regulations. See, Hispanic Coll. Fund, Inc. v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 826 N.E.2d 652 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005) (holding that the NCAA’s decisions regarding organization were not subject to trial court’s review absent allegations of fraud or illegality, because the organization was a voluntary member of NCAA). Furthermore, “[t]he articles of incorporation and bylaws of a not-for-profit corporation are generally considered to be a contract between the corporation and its members and among the members themselves.” Id, at 658. Therefore, member schools are under an enforceable contract with the NCAA and subject to its rules, regulations, and any punishment it may sentence. Bylaw 19.5.2 lists all the appropriate penalties for major violations, including (l): other penalties as appropriate. 

Courts have been, and remain, reluctant to accept challenges to the substance of NCAA enforcement decisions; the Oliver case being one of the few exceptions. See e.g. Justice v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 577 F. Supp. 356 (D. Ariz. 1983) (upholding NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations and denying student-athletes’ constitutiona land antitrust claims); but see Oliver v. Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn., 2008-Ohio-7144, 155 Ohio Misc. 2d 1, 920 N.E.2d 190. Further, membership must tread lightly in either going to court to challenge a decision or, more likely, abiding by a court ruling overturning a NCAA decision pursuant to injunctive relief sought by a student-athlete, since the NCAA reserves the right to punish a member institution should an appellate court later reverse alower court’s ruling overturning a NCAA decision. See, e.g. Nat’l CollegiateAthletic Ass’n v. Jones, 1 S.W.3d 83 (Tex. 1999) (holding that the NCAA’s appeal from an injunction granted at the trial court level was not moot as to the applicability of retroactive penalties). Challenges to the NCAA administrative law process are for when the NCAA is not following its own “fair process.” So, the question applicable to Penn State is whether the NCAA did, in fact, follow its own fair process. 

The fair process established by the NCAA can be found in Article 32. From start to finish, including investigations and hearings, the infractions process takes over a year in most cases. The process includes a preliminary investigation, the possibility of summary-disposition, notice of inquiry, notice of allegation, institution investigation, written responses to the allegation, hearing, final Committee report and possible appeal. For example, allegations of impermissible recruiting and student-athletes receiving benefits from professional agents at the University of South Carolina first came to light in July 2010. The Public Infractions Report was issued two years later on April 27, 2012. On the other hand, the overall process with Penn State took about nine months. 

However, with Penn State, the NCAA did not follow the infractions process established in Article 32. So, does the NCAA's failure to follow its already-established process of investigation, enforcement, hearing, deliberation, decision, and possible appeal violate the fair process that it is bound to follow? Yes and no. A "quick look" analysis reveals that punishment was delivered by the NCAA President without regard for the existing NCAA enforcement structure; something not specifically articulated in NCAA bylaws, and certainly not something for which we see any precedent. However, the only party with standing to challenge the NCAA's declaration is Penn State, and Penn State consented to this punishment; ergo we now have a moot challenge.

As someone who regularly represents parties in NCAA processes, knowing what information is public thus far, if I am Penn State, I do not think going through the infractions process would have been a better process for the Penn State community. Sure, the punishments might not have been as severe, but Jerry Sandusky's actions were not just corruptions of the NCAA's principles of amateurism, competitive fairness, and academic integrity, but acts of profound evil. As such, as the infractions process drags on, Sandusky's acts and any cover-up of those acts would be continually relived. Further, there is a cost in terms of counsel like myself to be involved in the process. Let's go back to the South Carolina example. The school said that it spent $535,667.50 in connection with the NCAA investigation. Finally, as to those who believe that Penn State would find relief only at the appellate level in the infractions process, there is no guarantee that Penn State would have taken the case this far. My friend, Jerry R. Parkinson, who served as a member of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions from 2000 until very recently (including service as the committee’s first coordinator of appeals), cited in a law review article that only thirty-four of the ninety major infractions cases that went to a hearing from 2000 to 2009 were appealed. 

While I believe the less controversial route would have been an expedited infractions process that would necessarily include a summary disposition (the July 12, 2012 Freeh Report helps in this regard), for the Penn State community to heal, I have to think ripping the band-aid off quickly in the manner done here with Emmert's decision yesterday, while not ideal, is preferable to a drawn out infractions process.

Reposted with permission - orginally posted July 25, 2012 on Sports Law Blog 

Bookmark and Share

 

A year ago we published an article in The Whisper titled Please Jurors, Check Your iPhone With The Bailiff (Vol. 7, Issue 2.) The article discussed the increasingly frequent problem of jurors' use of the Internet to do their own research and the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other and the world outside of the courtroom regarding the trials in which they serve. The temptation of a sitting juror to do her own research, or to discuss the case with other jurors or outsiders, has always been there; it is just that the advent of the digital age has made the ability to succumb to temptation so much easier. Clearly, courts have taken notice of the problem. Our article last year discussed the nature of the problem and what you, the lawyer, could do to learn of and handle the problem when it occurs. This article will in turn discuss what courts and legislatures around the country have done, and to suggest what more should be done to combat the problem at its source.

In the past year, there have been countless stories of jurors tweeting, posting to Facebook, blogging, or doing internet research during an ongoing trial. In a recent criminal case in California the jury was excused for a Mardsen hearing, which is when a defendant requests a new court-appointed attorney based upon a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. During the hearing, which must be held outside the presence of the jurors, several jurors used a cell phone to Google the meaning of the hearing. The judge found out and was forced to declare a mistrial. Before releasing the jury, the judge reprimanded the jury and told them the consequences of their actions – that the State would have to pay for a new trial, and that the defendant, who may in fact be innocent, would have to spend the next few weeks in jail awaiting his new trial. Thus, the judge advised, the State incurred substantial funds and a man lost his liberty, all because the jurors spent less than five minutes on Google during a trial. Had the jury been better warned, with an explanation of potential risk, the jury may not have committed the misconduct.

Another example is that of Seth Rogovoy, a Massachusetts juror who was dismissed from a trial in February 2011 for his tweeting during his service. The tweets included a post which stated: "I am in contempt of court, de facto if not de jure" and "Sucks that you can't tweet from the jury box. What's the fun in that?" These tweets show that Mr. Rogovoy both understood that he was not allowed to make the posts and the potential consequence to himself, yet he did so anyway. After being dismissed by the judge, Mr. Rogovoy stated: "I never mentioned any of the people: the defendant, the witnesses. I never mentioned the court I was sitting in." In an interview later given to Bob Gardinier, as reported in the February 9, 2011 Albany Times-Union article Rape trial of ex-priest now before jury: Deliberations set to start in case; juror dismissed after using "Twitter," Mr. Rogovoy stated that, given the popularity of social media platforms like Twitter, judges will be forced to confront them in the courtroom. In that respect, Mr. Rogovoy is absolutely correct.

In order to prevent further juror misconduct through the use of social media, legislatures need to make it clear that it will not be tolerated, and courts need to instruct juries specifically on the impropriety of discussing or researching regarding an ongoing trial, why it is improper to discuss or research an ongoing trial, and the consequences to the juror if he or she fails to follow those instructions. This instruction should be made several times throughout the course of a trial, including when candidates are first called for jury duty, before voir dire, at the beginning of trial, before every recess, and before deliberations. The court must then monitor the jurors as best it can, and follow through with the threatened punishment. Most courts are now doing something about the social media, and in fact most of these suggestions are being followed by at least some jurisdictions. However, no jurisdiction has yet put them all together in a comprehensive effort to combat the social media problem. Without a strong message that juror misconduct is impermissible, the problem will only get worse.

More than half the state and federal courts now have jury instructions that at least make a passing mention of the internet when advising jurors or prospective jurors on the prohibition of performing outside research or discussing an ongoing case. This is a good first step, as many of the jurors who have made social media postings in the past have relayed that they did not understand this to be a "discussion" which was prohibited by the rules. For this reason, it is important that the instructions make more than a mere passing reference. Rather, the instructions should be as specific as possible, mentioning sites such as Facebook and Twitter (or whatever the prevalent form or social media of the day happens to be). At least then, the rule itself will be clear to the jurors.

Additionally, the most effective jury instruction not only gives the rule, but also explains the reasons behind the rule. While lawyers understand that some evidence is inadmissible for one reason or another and will not be known to the jury, many laypersons have a different view. They see lawyers and judges as keeping information from them that they need to know. Thus, not only are they curious, but many believe that they must know all the facts in order to be the best juror they can be. It is also important, as many model instructions now realize, to give the jury the reasons so that they understand that it is important that they follow the rules. Just as important is to advise the jury of the consequences to the courts and parties if they do not follow the rules, and the likelihood of a mistrial.

Often these instructions are repeated in one form or another several times throughout the trial. This, coupled with a recitation of the policy reasons underlying the instruction, will provide the jury with a constant reminder of the prohibition and sound basis for not falling to temptation. While it may seem repetitive, the ease with which a person in today's world can pull out their cell phone and record a status update which can jeopardize the entire trial necessitates the constant reminder as seen in the examples above.

In San Francisco County, in response to a jury pool of over 600 that was dismissed in 2009 following the realization that they had all researched a high-profile case prior to voir dire, the court takes a more aggressive approach. Prospective juries are given a questionnaire with a cover sheet that states in part:

You are ordered not to discuss this case with anyone; do not allow anyone to discuss the case with you. The only information you may tell anyone is that you are in a jury pool for a trial and the time requirements of that trial. You are also ordered not to read, listen to, or watch any news, Internet, or other media accounts of this case, past or present. You may not do research about any issues involved in the case. You may not blog, Tweet, or use the Internet to obtain or share information. (CCP §1209(a)(10))

In addition to the instruction on prohibition, there must be consequences for a juror's willful disobedience of the rules. There are many individual instances where a judge has held a juror in contempt of court for violating the prohibition on research and discussion, and held hearings. This may need to be a more frequent and publicized occurrence to stem the growing problem. California recently passed a new law, AB 141, which went into effect on January 1, 2012, that makes a willful violation of the prohibition on research or use of social media punishable by not only civil contempt, but also makes it a misdemeanor. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1209(a)(6); Cal. Penal Code § 166(a)(6). In addition, the bill amends current law and requires that the jury be specifically instructed, before trial and before recesses, on the prohibition of research or dissemination of information, in all forms including electronic and wireless. See Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 611; Cal. Penal Code § 1122. If anything, the bill does not go far enough. For instance, it could require offending jurors to pay for the consequences of their action, including the re-trial of the case if necessary.

While several judges in California and in other jurisdictions have taken it upon themselves to hold a juror in contempt for prohibited conduct, including the use of social media or performing internet research, the California Legislature's codification of this violation as not only civil contempt, but also a misdemeanor, is a step in the right direction. However, while California's new law requires the judge to advise juries regarding the prohibition on internet research and use of social media, it does not require the judge to instruct the jurors on the consequences of their actions if they fail to follow the rules. This too is important. While advising the jury of the reasons behind the rule appeals to their sense of civic duty – the carrot – advising the jury of the consequences of failing to adhere to the instruction lets the jury know that there will be real punishment – the stick. Both the carrot and the stick are necessary in order to have the best chance of strict adherence to the rules.

Finally, not only is it important that there be a law in place for handling a juror's violation and that the jury be advised of that law. The law must be enforced, possibly by the district attorneys as a misdemeanor rather than the judge as civil contempt. The instruction could also contain a request that the jurors report to the court if they know or suspect that one of their co-jurors may be violating any of these orders, which would in essence be self-enforcement.

Other courts have experimented with the prohibition of cell phones in the courthouse for everyone, or at least for jurors. Indiana, for instance, requires the bailiff to collect and store computers, cell phones and other electronic communications devices prior to deliberations. This rule was implemented after the Indiana Supreme Court considered a case wherein a juror took a cell phone call during deliberations. There, the Indiana Supreme Court wrote: "We additionally observe that permitting jurors, other trial participants, and observers to retain or access mobile telephones or other electronic communication devices, while undoubtedly often helpful and convenient, is fraught with significant potential problems impacting the fair administration of justice….The best practice is for trial courts to discourage, restrict, prohibit, or prevent access to mobile electronic communication devices by all persons except officers of the court during all trial proceedings, and particularly by jurors during jury deliberation." Henri v. Curto, 908 N.E.2d 196, 202-203 (Ind. 2009). Although helpful for times when the jurors are actually at the courthouse, this solution may not provide much in the way of curbing the practice of Internet research and social media discussions after hours, unless the jury is sequestered for the entire trial.

Our jury trial system is dependent on the jurors who are privy only to the evidence admissible in court, instructed on the law solely by the judge at the conclusion of the evidence and who have not been predisposed to outside opinions or discussions of the case before deliberation with their fellow jurors. While no solution is perfect, it is clear that courts, legislatures, and lawyers must do more to halt the increasing episodes of juror misconduct.

Tom D'Amato is a shareholder with Murphey, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney in San Francisco. He maintains an active litigation and trial practice in state and federal courts, and in administrative proceedings before regulatory and government agencies. Chief among his areas of practice are professional liability, business disputes, intellectual property, real estate, employment and personal injury. Mr. D'Amato also regularly represents clients in appellate courts.

Adam Koss is an associate with Murphey, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney in San Francisco. Mr. Koss focuses his practice on all phases of litigation, representing clients at mediation, arbitration and through to trial if required. Mr. Koss has an active practice defending professionals and their businesses, specifically in malpractice actions. Although he focuses predominantly on the defense of professionals and businesses, he also represents clients in a variety of other fields, including products liability, employment law, real estate, contract disputes and general negligence.

Bookmark and Share

 

Many people will not be shocked by the title of this post.  However, a new report issued by an advocacy group for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was recently released that was entitled, “The Plaintiffs’ Bar Goes Digital, an Analysis of the Digital Marketing Efforts of Plaintiffs’ Attorneys and Litigation Firms.”  The report found that marketing efforts were being camouflaged as forums or support group sites.   The report estimated that law firms had spent more than $50,000,000 on Google advertising in 2011.  The overwhelming majority of that was spent by Plaintiff’s firms.  However, despite the fact that the amount of spending does not rank with large corporations, it is disproportionate for the size of the industry.  The report is critical of the Plaintiffs’ Bar because of a lack of transparency that many of their sites were actually marketing for law firms.  

As social networking, blogs, and other methods of disseminating information grow, they will become an increasingly prominent part of Plaintiff’s attorneys networking and marketing strategies.  To a lesser extent, we can expect the same on the defense side.  As we expand our internet marketing footprint, we need to be ever vigilant to ensure that our marketing is done truthfully and ethically.  Advertisement by legal professionals should be transparent and truthful.  Various bar associations will most likely weigh in on specific examples in the near future.  We should all make diligent efforts to make sure we are on the right side of whatever precedent is set.  

Bookmark and Share

 

Recently, Montana’s chief federal judge admitted to forwarding an email from his court email account that included a racist “joke” involving bestiality and President Barack Obama's mother.  Judge Richard Cebull has since issued a formal apology to President Obama and has asked for a formal judicial review of his actions.  Earlier this week, two members of the House Judiciary called for a hearing to examine the judge’s conduct.  Representatives John Conyers of Michigan and Steve Cohen of Tennessee told Committee Chairman Lamar Smith in their letter that the committee has a duty to investigate the potential consequences of Judge Richard Cebull’s email.   “At a minimum, forwarding this email illustrates poor judgment and of conduct that was unbecoming of a federal judge,” they wrote.  “More troubling, however, is the possibility that public disclosure of the judge’s conduct may not only undermine the public’s view of his personal credibility and impartiality as a judge, but also the integrity of the ... federal judiciary.”

More than 70 percent of President Obama's confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years were "non-traditional," or nominees who were not white males.  That far exceeds the percentages in the two-term administrations of Bill Clinton (48.1 %) and George W. Bush (32.9 %), according to Sheldon Goldman, author of the authoritative book Picking Federal Judges.  "It is an absolutely remarkable diversity achievement," said Goldman, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  Are Judge Cebull’s actions an isolated incident or an indication that we still have a long way to go with regard to diversity efforts in the legal profession?

Bookmark and Share

 

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on February 28, 2012 in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a case raising the controversial issue of corporate liability for alleged violations of international law.

Kiobel is a putative class action in which the plaintiffs, current and former residents of Nigeria, allege that three oil companies aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing human rights violations in connection with oil exploration activities in Nigeria.  Plaintiffs invoked the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, as the jurisdictional basis for their U.S. lawsuit against foreign companies for alleged human rights abuses occurring in Africa.  The ATS, although passed by the first Congress in 1789, was first utilized in 1980 by an alien plaintiff seeking a civil remedy for alleged human rights abuses.  The ATS provides as follows: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”    

The Second Circuit dismissed the plaintiffs’ suit, holding that the district court lacked jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims against corporations.  The court started with the uncontroversial proposition that the ATS is a jurisdictional statute and does not create any cause of action.  Citing an earlier Supreme Court ATS case, Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692 (2004), the Second Circuit stated that it must look to “customary international law to determine both whether certain conduct leads to ATS liability and whether the scope of liability under the ATS extends to the defendant being sued.”  After an extensive review of international law, the court could not identify a single instance in which a corporation had ever been subject to any form of liability under the customary international law of human rights.  Thus, the court concluded that imposing liability on corporations for violations of customary international law had not attained a “discernible”, much less the required “universal”, level of acceptance among the nations of the world in their relations with each other.  Therefore, the court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims against the oil companies and dismissed the complaint.       

The Supreme Court docket has been extremely active since plaintiffs’ petition was granted in October 2011.  In addition to denying defendant Shell’s conditional cross-petition for writ of certiorari, the Court has seen over 35 amici briefs filed in Kiobel, including a brief by the United States government in support of petitioners-plaintiffs and briefs by the governments of Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands in support of respondents. 

The outside interest generated by Kiobel underscores the important ramifications of the Court’s decision on corporate liability, both for U.S. companies with foreign operations, as well as foreign and multinational firms.  But the outcome of the case pivots on a relatively narrow slate of legal issues.  In their merits brief, the petitioners first take the position that the Second Circuit incorrectly characterized the issue of corporate civil liability as an issue of subject matter jurisdiction.  Petitioners go on to argue that under the ATS, analysis of customary international law is necessary to determine whether a particular act constitutes a violation of a substantive international law norm, but that domestic law (which undoubtedly recognizes corporate civil liability) supplies the remedy.  The respondents of course disagree, pointing to the above-quoted excerpt from Sosa as clearly establishing that international law must recognize corporate liability before ATS liability can be imposed. 

From the outset of petitioners’ oral argument, it was apparent that the Court was concerned about the notion of U.S. courts imposing civil liability on foreign companies for foreign conduct.   Counsel for petitioners, Paul Hoffman, uttered two sentences before Justice Kennedy interjected with two statements he challenged Mr. Hoffman to rebut: (1) “International law does not recognize corporate responsibility for the alleged offenses here,” and (2) “No other nation in the world permits its court to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over alleged extraterritorial human rights abuses to which the nation has no connection”.  Justice Alito followed in the same vein shortly thereafter with the observation that “there’s no particular connection between the events here and the United States,” which fed into his later questioning “what business” a case like this one has in the courts of the United States.   Justice Roberts appeared equally concerned about U.S. courts adjudicating the instant dispute, and he questioned whether the Kiobel suit itself contravened international law insofar as it could not have been brought in any other nation.

While the Court kept Mr. Hoffman occupied with the issue of the extraterritorial scope of the ATS, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler, arguing for the United States, was permitted to address several other arguments in support of petitioners’ position.  Nevertheless, the argument turned back toward broader policy issues, as Justice Kennedy posed a hypothetical to illustrate what he perceived to be the United States’ position:

Suppose an American corporation commits human trafficking with U.S. citizens in the United States. Under your view, the U.S. corporation could be sued in any country in the world, and it would -- and that would have no international consequences. We don't look to the international consequences at all. That's -- that's the view of the Government of the United States, as I understand.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, although peppered with wide-ranging questions from an active bench, was able to consistently return focus to respondents’ position that corporate liability was simply not recognized by customary international law.   Respondents’ argument was summarized succinctly by Ms. Sullivan toward the end of her oral argument:

[T]he ATS has language that says the tort must be committed in violation of the law of nations. So although, Justice Ginsburg, it doesn't specify who may be the defendants, it does point us to the law of nations to figure out what the law of nations thinks about who may be the defendants, and the law of nations is uniform. It rejects corporate liability. It rejects corporate liability.

Counsel for respondents finished her argument by clarifying that respondents did not seek a rule of “corporate impunity”, noting that corporate officers could be liable for human rights violations and that there were other avenues for suits redressing human rights violations, such as under state law or the domestic laws of nations.   

In rebuttal, Mr. Hoffman argued that “international law places no restriction on the way domestic jurisdictions enforce international law”.  However, despite his effort to focus the Court’s attention on domestic law as supplying the remedy for a violation of international law, he found himself answering the same line of questioning that began the argument – why should the courts of the United States entertain a “suit by an . . . alien against another alien for conduct that takes place overseas”?  This fundamental question emerged as perhaps the primary theme of the oral argument.  Whether the justices received a satisfactory answer will likely determine the outcome of the case. Keep an eye on the DRI Court Reporter for a summary of the Court’s decision when it is released.

The entire oral argument transcript can be downloaded from the Supreme Court website here.

Joshua D. Shaw practices law at Turner Padget Graham & Laney P.A. in Columbia, South Carolina.  

Bookmark and Share

 

Less Jury Trials Impact Many; Florida Study

Posted on February 10, 2012 08:56 by Lori Vella

If you spend some time looking at the statistics, you will see the number of jury trials is swiftly declining.  Many states and organizations have recognized the decline, voicing concerns about the resulting impact on the judicial system, the public and lawyers.  The Florida Bar created a special taskforce, the Special Committee to Study the Decline in Jury Trials (“Committee”), to research and analyze the trend, determine the root cause of the decline and recommend a course of action to the Florida Board of Governors to minimize the impact of this decline.  The Committee issued its final report in December 2011.  The full report is available at floridabar.org by clicking “About the Bar,” followed by “Committees” and then “Special.”

The Committee reviewed, among other published studies, Professor Marc Galanter’s article The Vanishing Trial: An Examination of Trials and Related Matters in Federal and State Courts (1 J. Empirical Legal Studies 459 (2004)).  When you view the statistics, the decline is apparent, and staggering.   For example, in 1962, 11.5% of 50,320 civil federal court dispositions were by trial.  In 2002, there were only 1.8% dispositions by trial, out of 258,876.  In Florida civil cases, 1.6% of total civil cases (155,407) were resolved by jury in 1986.  By 2009, the percentage reduced to .2%, while the number of civil cases increased to 401,463. 

According to the Committee, there are several reasons why jury trials suffered declines.  For civil cases, the rise of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms contributed markedly.  The expense of trials is always another common deterrent.  Another factor is the time it takes to bring a case to trial.  Despite the reduction in number, it was noted that jury trials have become more complex -- longer and more complicated. 

The declines have not been without negative impacts.  With fewer jury trials, fewer people participate in the judicial system as jurors.  Jury service helps educate the public about the justice system.  It is a simple way for the average citizen to play a role in governmental decision making.  If the nearly all disputes are resolved privately, via mediation or arbitration, rather than in an open courtroom, the public’s perception of the justice system will become further skewed.

The decline in jury trials also contributes to reduced funding to the court system, as the decline itself may be viewed as a reason to fund less.  This contributes to a never ending cycle of funding and less independence of the judiciary. 

One of the greatest impacts, however, is the effect on new lawyers.  A lawyer learns best by first-hand practice.  With less opportunity to conduct a trial, lawyers must look to other training which will always be less adequate than the real thing.  The new lawyer ends up feeling uncomfortable and unsure regarding his or her skills.  When the opportunity finally arises, the lawyer may shy away from the experience because he or she simply does not know how to try a case. 

The Committee recommended several measures, including full funding of the courts.  To reduce the impact, the Committee also suggested training and mentoring programs for young lawyers, such as certified legal intern programs or State Attorney/ Public Defender internships.  The Committee further recommended techniques to the bench to more efficiently administer judicial duties, with less cost to litigants, such as streamlining discovery and encouraging the use of expedited jury trials. 

DRI created the Jury Preservation Task Force to examine this federal and state vanishing jury trial phenomenon and report on its findings, which will be published in a future edition of For the Defense.    

 

Bookmark and Share

 

The vanishing jury trial is perhaps one of the most important issues facing the civil justice system today.  Civil trials have declined in federal courts from 12% in 1984 to less than 1% in 2010.  Statistics from state courts, though more difficult to obtain, generally show the same trends.  The issue has been widely studied, and while the fact of the vanishing trial is clear, the reasons for the decline are less obvious.  Several theories have been advanced, ranging from a dramatic rise in case filings and underfunded court systems to the ever increasing cost of litigation and the success of alternative dispute resolution.  

In 2010, DRI created the Jury Preservation Task Force (JPTF) to examine and inform the membership of issues impacting civil jury trials.  The work of the JPTF is now underway.  In 2011, the JPTF conducted multiple surveys concerning issues impacting civil jury trials.  Survey respondents included State and Local Defense Organization (SLDO) leaders and participants in both the DRI Insurance and Corporate Counsel Roundtables.  The JPTF is now in the process of examining the survey results along with the significant body of research available on the vanishing jury trial and the initiatives being proposed to address the problem.
The JPTF, in collaboration with DRI’s Trial Tactics Committee, will publish the results of its findings in a future edition of For the Defense.  Then we will ask for your help.  Stay tuned!

Bookmark and Share

 
 

Submit Blog

If you wish to submit a blog posting for DRI Today, send an email to today@dri.org with "Blog Post" in the subject line. Please include article title and any tags you would like to use for the post.
 
 
 

Search Blog


Recent Posts

Categories

Authors

Blogroll



Staff Login