Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

A Jury of Our Peers

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

A Jury of Our Peers

Article excerpt

IN the "Great Charter of English Liberty" granted by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215, which has come down through the ages as Magna Carta, the famous Clause 39 declares, "No freeman shall be ... disseised, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, except by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." The charter was repromulgated by succeeding English monarchs, and when adopted by Edward I on October 12, 1297, it was placed on the statute-roll.

In addition to being a basic document of English liberty, Magna Carta became a beacon of political guidance to the English settlers who came to American shores. The United States Constitution is founded on English law, and the same is true with regard to most, if not all, of the state constitutions. We are familiar, to one degree or another, with the provisions in those constitutions protecting the right to trial by jury. As recently as 1994, the Ohio Supreme Court in Zoppo v. Homestead Insurance Co. recognized that trial by jury is "a fundamental constitutional right which derives from the Magna Carta." 644 N.E.2d 397, at 401.

But are they defendants' peers?

In most American civil jury trials today, or at least certainly in the trials of most personal injury cases, no reasonable person could view the triers of fact as a jury of the defendants' peers. Defendants who are professionals, product manufacturers, employers, insurance companies, and/or other corporations are not judged today in our American courts by juries of their peers.

I view this as a major defect in our civil justice system, about which I believe the International Association of Defense Counsel has an obligation to try to do something. Consequently, I have appointed a special committee of the IADC on "A Jury of Our Peers." Harry Mooney of Buffalo, New York, has agreed to chair this committee, which will include IADC members from all over the country.

Basically, I have given Harry and his committee two charges. First of all, I want them to conduct research-survey the country, survey all federal and state jurisdictions-with regard to the summoning, selection and empaneling of civil jurors. We are not just interested in the written rules, policies and procedures that are supposed to be in effect, but what is actually being done.

Answers to hard questions

A lot of hard questions have to be asked, just some of which include:

* Are prospective jurors summoned from voter registration lists, driver's license rolls or some other sources? …

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