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October 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.

 

Going Back to Basics Improves Juror Utilization


“Jury service is a civic duty and juror participation is key to the functioning of the courts.”

—Judge Julie Robinson (D. Kan.)

A year after the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) looked at juror utilization and took steps to improve the utilization rates, federal trial courts are doing a better job using citizens who are summoned for jury duty. The national average of jurors not selected, serving or challenged (NSSC) on the first day of jury service has dropped to 37.9 percent from a high of 40.1 percent in 2009.

“Jury service is a civic duty and juror participation is key to the functioning of the courts. We appreciate the dedication of our jurors who serve,” said Judge Julie Robinson (D. Kan), CACM Committee chair. “We also want to spare citizens the inconvenience of appearing for jury duty, without truly participating in the process.”

In the 12-month period ending June 30, 2011, 159,644 jurors were selected to decide cases. Fourteen districts improved their percentages by 10 points or more. A total of 28 districts achieved the Conference-approved utilization goal of 30 percent or less for jurors reporting for jury service but not selected, serving or challenged. The decline over the last year in the percentage of jurors called or serving translates to a savings to the Judiciary of over half a million dollars.

Until 1999, the average percentage of NSSC fluctuated between 33 and 35 percent. However, after 1999 the percentage trended above 35 percent and by 2009, had hit 40 percent. Rather than a sign of systemic jury management problems, the increase was seen mainly in a few large courts, with factors such as high-profile or notorious trials and other matters beyond a court’s control.

Still, the CACM Committee encouraged all courts to look at the number of jurors they called for selection. At its June 2010 meeting, the Committee took steps to improve juror utilization.

“We decided we needed to go back to the basics,” said Robinson. “We began by reviewing with each district their jurorusage rates over the last 10 years, and comparing those numbers to the national trend. We encouraged all courts, particularly those with high percentages of jurors NSSC, to look carefully at the number of jurors they call for selection. We also asked courts to consider establishing a standard reasonable size range for jury panels in routine civil and criminal cases.”

Limiting the number of individuals called on any given day in notorious trials to those who can be voir dired, either individually or as a group, helps maximize juror utilization.

Courts were made aware of “best practices” that courts have used to improve juror utilization, including consolidating or “bunching” trials so they are scheduled to start only on specified days of the week, “pooling” or sharing a group of prospective jurors among several judges, and staggering trial starts throughout the jury selection day. Limiting the number of individuals called on any given day in notorious trials to those who can be voir dired, either individually or as a group, helps maximize juror utilization. Tips and best practices such as these were compiled for court use.

“We also asked the Federal Judicial Center to consider resuming its juror utilization and management workshops,” said Robinson. The workshops had been a fixture throughout the 1980s and ’90s, but had been discontinued.

In March 2011, the FJC held a Juror Utilization and Jury Management Workshop for the larger courts that looked at the entire juror experience from before jurors are called, through service at the courthouse, and after.

A year after CACM undertook its initiative, juror utilization rates are improving. “As the courts continue to review their jury selection practices and identify measures to make better use of jurors, we can improve juror utilization rates, reduce the costs to the court, and ease burdens on jurors and jurors’ employees,” said Robinson.