IS MARYLAND'S JURY HEADED?
Bar and Bench Examine Nuts & Bolts
of Jury Duty
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
Dispelling rumors that the American jury system is a luxury
our country can no longer afford, members of Maryland’s Bar and Bench
gathered at an innovative jury symposium on March 29, 2005, to examine our
state’s civil jury system and gave it relatively high marks. At “The
Maryland Jury: Today and Tomorrow,” sponsored by the Council on Jury
Use & Management, the Maryland Defense Counsel and Maryland Trial Lawyers
Association, prominent lawyers and judges discussed the strengths and weaknesses
of the state’s civil jury system and explored ways to improve jury service
in the state.
is not your
Dennis M. Sweeney
This day-long session, held at the University of Maryland
School of Law, featured panel after panel of jury commissioners, trial lawyers
and judges sharing their perspective on the nuts and bolts of jury service
and selection in Maryland. They offered suggestions on ways to improve the
experience for citizens called for jury duty, as did a panel of real jurors
from Baltimore City. Overall, the future direction of jury service in Maryland,
and potential reforms, were probed.
“Today’s jury is not your grandfather’s
jury,” reports the Honorable Dennis M. Sweeney, Chair of the Judiciary’s
Council on Jury Use &
Management and coordinator of the symposium. “Today’s jurors want
a faster-paced, more interactive process and not one where they are merely
lectured at for days. It is the legal system’s challenge to find ways
to accommodate these trends without doing violence to the traditional role
of the jury.”
The Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of
Appeals of Maryland, opened the event, greeting the audience of 135 legal professionals. “This
is a timely program because our jury system is often under attack today,” he
proclaimed. “The jury is a fundamental part of the justice system, so
we must re-examine the process and look for ways to strengthen and improve
it for our fellow citizens.”
Referring to a 2004 ABA poll, Bell cited “Americans’ strong
belief in the jury system, even if it is inconvenient, especially by those
who have already served.” He hopes Maryland can improve the convenience
so courts can “call in jurors only when needed and utilize them properly.” In
addition, he hopes to remove barriers such as compensation, restrictions on
citizens with minor criminal convictions and juror safety/security concerns.
One of the highlights of the day was a panel of jurors who
gave realistic impressions of jury service from their perspectives (see “What
Do Jurors Really Think”, Page 5). A panel of jury commissioners discussed
jury recruitment and service in, respectively, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery
Counties. Voter and MVA records are the basis of jury pools in each jurisdiction,
although Howard has added ID cards, and they all offer as much flexibility
as possible to potential jurors in terms of scheduling. All are encountering
problems with non-citizens being summoned and language barriers.
In a session on protecting the integrity of the jury, trial
attorneys Michael J. Baxter and Robert R. Michael, along with the Honorable
Richard H. Sothoron, Jr., analyzed the Court’s Council on Jury Use
and Management 2000 Report and Recommendations. Areas of concern included
mini-opening statements, peremptory challenges, jurors asking questions and
the use of alternate jurors.
However, permitting juror discussion during the course of
the trial generated a great deal of debate as it was disturbing to all three.
“Jurors don’t have the framework until the entire trial is over,” warned
Michael. “They need to have an open mind,” echoed Baxter. “The
issues are constantly changing, so discussion needs to wait until the end of
the trial,” added Sothoron.
Other programs included voir dire practice pointers,
advanced technology for selecting jurors, “getting them and holding them” and
overall trends and facts and figures about Maryland’s jury service, with
Judge Sweeney presiding. Sweeney told the audience that Maryland has roughly
1,643 civil trials a year (not counting those in Garrett and Prince George’s
County, where statistics were not available), and the average length of a trial
“two to three days.”
Finally, the group looked to the future. Everything from
no-show jurors and the city’s lack of qualified jurors to possible statewide
reforms and innovations were examined as the audience took a new, closer look
at Maryland’s jury system. Sweeney announced that Maryland’s Judiciary
has created an Honor Roll to recognize employers who fully compensate employees
throughout their entire jury service, in an effort to enhance juror compensation,
and the Council on Jury Use and Management will draft model jury service employer
policies and make them available to employers.
In addition, Sweeney also reported that the Court may seek
legislation in the 2006 session to ease jury service restrictions for Marylanders
with minor criminal convictions. “Our restrictions, reportedly the harshest
in the nation, disqualify anyone with a criminal conviction of six months or
more, or $500 or more, even if the penalty is fully suspended, unless the person
is pardoned by the Governor,” he noted.
Sweeney was very pleased with the first Bar/Bench jury symposium
and its excellent turnout. “The symposium was an opportunity for lawyers
who face off against each other in the court room on a daily basis to drop
back and reflect on how well or poorly the jury system is working,” he
said. “I was impressed with the respect everyone had for those who serve
on juries; it’s a system that works well, and we can make it even better.
There seemed to be a commitment on all sides – judges, lawyers, jury
commissioners and jurors – to find ways to improve and preserve the civil
It was clear that symposium participants hold differing views
on the jury that are contingent upon their role/interaction with the jury.
However, they all consider the jury a vital component in Maryland’s justice
system and recognize the juror’s important role in deciding and administering
“There may be another jury program next year, and other
jury-related programs around the state are possible in the future,” Sweeney
“With the level of enthusiasm present, I am sure that we will find ways
to keep this momentum going.”