- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

A proposed overhaul of the way juries are selected and treated in federal and state court cases calls for higher pay and expanded privacy rights for jurors.

The overhaul was introduced yesterday by the American Bar Association but is not expected to be endorsed by the organization until early next year. It proposes a number of new principles, including preventing courtroom cameras from recording jurors’ faces.

The goal, according to ABA President Robert J. Grey Jr., is to improve jury participation and make the duty more convenient for Americans. The legal profession must advocate “for the people who are a critical and indispensable part of the process, the jurors,” he said.

The guidelines come on the heels of several high-profile trials. In April, a New York state Supreme Court justice declared a mistrial in the Tyco fraud case after a juror, whose name had been published in news reports, received a threatening letter about her perceived intention to hold out for acquittal.

Mr. Grey, a partner in the Richmond law firm Hunton & Williams, declined to cite specific cases involving jury problems. Instead, he said the principles are designed to make the overall jury element of trials operate more smoothly regardless of a case’s publicity.

“Circumstances where the identity of the juror is leaked is not a good idea,” he said, adding that the principles call for enhancing the privacy of the process through which lawyers vet jurors before a trial starts.

Among the principles being proposed:

• Judges should ensure jurors’ privacy is protected and that lawyers can question prospective jurors only about relevant subjects. Sensitive questions should be asked privately with the jurors’ understanding of how the information will be used.

• Following jury selection and trial, the court should keep all jurors’ home and business addresses and telephone numbers confidential and under seal unless good cause is shown to require disclosure.

• Courts should be encouraged to increase pay for jurors serving lengthy trials. Employers should be prohibited from forcing employees to use vacation time or leave for jury duty, or from firing or denying advancement opportunities for missed work.

Mr. Grey has been pushing for the new guidelines since August when he became president of the ABA, a nationwide coalition of about 400,000 lawyers that has powerful influence over the manner with which trials are conducted in U.S. courts.

The jury overhaul project has involved the creation of the American Jury Commission to educate the public about jury service. In announcing the new principles in Washington yesterday, Mr. Grey was joined by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the commission’s honorary chairwoman.

Justice O’Connor, who called the very existence of trial juries “one of our most cherished rights,” said the guidelines will work toward fixing “some serious problems” that presently plague the system.

The principles are laid out in a 25-page proposal, which will undergo a comment period before a February vote by the ABA’s House of Delegates. If passed, the guidelines will become ABA policy and could become standards enforceable by judges nationwide.

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