Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2005

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MSBA Celebrates Maryland Jury On Law Day
Lawyers, students, teachers examine today's jury
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

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The Honorable Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore City State's Attorney (left) and WJZ-TV reporter Suzanne Collins
 

Lawday
MSBA President-Elect Edward J. Gilliss (center), flanked by MSBA Public Awareness Committee Co-Chairs Robert Anbinder (left) and Adam Sean Cohen

On May 17, MSBA celebrated Law Day with a special lawyer/teacher/student conference on Maryland’s Jury. This public service program, sponsored by MSBA’s Public Awareness Committee in conjunction with the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program in Maryland Schools (CLREP), attracted over 130 high school students, teachers and lawyers from across the state. Entitled “We the Jury: Maryland Citizens in Action,” the day-long event, held at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center in Towson, featured a keynote address from the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, an educational videotape, an interactive mock trial and a number of prominent speakers discussing different aspects of the state’s jury system.

Edward J. Gilliss, MSBA’s President-Elect, offered greetings on behalf of MSBA and spoke of MSBA’s commitment to public service. “Thousands of volunteer lawyers go out into the community and visit schools across the state to talk about the law,” Gilliss noted. He congratulated CLREP on its 30th anniversary and praised the volunteer attorneys who have touched the lives of over 2 million young people through law-related programs in the last three decades.

The audience was then treated to Your Turn to Serve, an educational and entertaining videotape which offered a historical perspective of jury service. It traced the evolution of the jury as it followed the spirit of independence in this country, developing the characteristics that define America’s jury today. The students and teachers also gained an insight into what it is really like to serve on a jury from actual jurors.

Chief Judge Bell addressed the importance of jury service and its role as a cornerstone of our democracy. “Our Rule of Law is our society’s foundation, and with it we are a great democracy, Bell observed. “However, the Rule of Law requires the participation of our citizens. We need citizens to serve on juries; juries judge the facts and ensure that the law is applied fairly and that justice is done. Juries give ordinary people a central role in our government; they put a human face on the law.” The Chief Judge encouraged all of the students, once they are of age, to appear when summoned for jury duty and to serve, if selected, on a jury.

Next, the audience was divided into seven juries. They watched a videotape of an actual trial involving a high school senior charged with possession of drugs; retired Judge Edward Angelletti then offered jury instructions to the students. The “jurors” deliberated, completed verdict sheets and the jury foremen shared the gist of their deliberation. Three returned a verdict of not guilty and four were hung juries.

The conference also featured special speakers at afternoon breakout sessions with such timely topics as “Juries: Myths, Media & Misconceptions”, with Suzanne Collins, WJZ-TV reporter; “Juries and the Death Penalty: The Ultimate Responsibility”, with Gary Christopher, Chief Assistant Federal Public Defender; “Juror & Witness Intimidation: The Impact on Jurors”, with the Honorable Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore City State’s Attorney; and “When Witnesses Take the 5th or Defendants Remain Silent: Implication for Jury Members”, with Adam Sean Cohen, The Cohen Law Firm. These generated in-depth dialogues that continued into the final panel discussion, during which the above speakers were flooded with questions.

Public Awareness Co-Chairs Adam Sean Cohen and Robert Anbinder were pleased with the overall event. “We had a rare and exciting opportunity to speak to the future jurors of our State about what they can expect as participants in the Judicial Process,” declares Cohen. “The dialogue was very informative for both the presenters and audience.”

“It is exciting that we were able to get high schoolers, who are focused on so many other things, to see the importance and consequences of jury service,” adds Anbinder. “Hopefully, they now place a higher value on freedom and civil liberty, having seen how members of their own community can strip them of both after a trial.”

“The mock jury exercise particularly struck home to the students when they realized that serving on a jury and reaching consensus with other members can be exhausting and divisive,” Anbinder continues. “It was a needed injection of the real world into the lives of these cloistered students.”

“Many if not all of the students’ preconceived notions of ‘the jury’ were cleared up,” adds Cohen. “The one concept that each and every student took away from the program was that the American jury system is the best system of justice in the world and that the system is only as strong as its participants. They are all eager and excited to participate when called to duty. In a nutshell, we have planted a powerful seed and will soon see the fruits.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June, 2005

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