I meet with my jurors after every trial. Without fail, they mention that being a juror is not an easy task, but they still always find the experience rewarding.
We throw a lot at our jurors: unpolished witnesses, stacks of unreadable exhibits, long winded speaking objections, a lot of waiting around while the lawyers argue points of law, and finally, page after page of jury instructions which often make simple legal concepts overly complicated. And even when civil jury trials are poorly presented, jurors listen carefully to the evidence, use their common sense, and follow the Court’s instructions of law to the best of their ability.
There is a lot of talk these days about the vanishing civil jury trial. Although our concern may partially be due to our reminiscing over the “good old days,” the fact is, civil jury trial numbers don’t lie. Civil jury trials are down. However, I disagree with people who attribute the decrease in civil jury trials to judges not wanting to go to trial. To the contrary, I often hear my colleagues complain that they are not getting enough jury trials. Trying cases is why many of us joined the bench.
Maybe civil jury trials have become too expensive, or maybe being bombarded with arbitration clauses in every commercial contract has finally taken its toll. But after being involved in hundreds of jury trials as a trial lawyer and state District Court Judge, I am firmly convinced that when you put six or twelve jurors in a room and ask them to deliberate, the quality of the verdict is better than when the case is decided by a judge or an arbitrator.
Let’s face it, even judges can fall into the trap of taking the easy way out. After hearing contested cases all day, judges, like everyone, often want to avoid conflict or maybe they are just concerned about appearing fair. Regardless, sometimes it is easier for a judge to “split the baby” with their verdict even in cases where there should be a clear winner and a clear loser. But civil juries are different. Jurors may only be involved in one or two trials in their life. They are not jaded or concerned about re-election. Jurors bring a collective sense of purpose to the courtroom and exude common sense. Moreover, jurors often view the trial from a fresher and more complete perspective than a jurist. The result, in my opinion, is better justice.
We all need to do our part in protecting our constitutional right to the civil jury trial. I recently changed my case management order to encourage parties to try more civil jury trials in my courtroom. In the past, I required mandatory settlement conferences or some other form of alternative dispute resolution with all jury trials. I now only require alternative dispute resolution when a jury trial is set for more than three days. By this change, I am attempting to minimize the cost of getting to jury trial in my courtroom when the parties handle their case in the most efficient manner. Let’s Save Our Juries.
Richard B. Caschette
District Court Judge, 18th Judicial District, State of Colorado