Monday, December 4, 2006
Judicial Council Rules Will Let Jurors Take Notes in All Trials
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Jurors will be allowed to take notes in all civil and criminal trials and judges will be encouraged to permit jurors to submit written questions directed to witnesses under new rules approved Friday by the Judicial Council of California.
Under the new rules, which take effect Jan. 1, judges will no longer have discretion over the issue of note-taking. While the practice is widespread in state courts, there is currently no statewide requirement that all courts permit it, a council spokesperson said.
The new rule requires judges to allow jurors to take notes and to inform jurors that they may do so. It also requires courts to provide suitable note-taking materials for the jury.
As originally proposed, the rule would have “strongly encouraged” judges to allow note-taking, but by a 15-3 vote the council approved an amendment making the rule mandatory.
Meeting in San Francisco Friday, the council also adopted rules:
•Encouraging judges to allow jurors to submit written questions to witnesses
•Recommending that judges encourage counsel in complex civil cases to prepare notebooks for jurors that contains trial related materials, such as notes, witness lists, seating charts, exhibits lists, and other material as appropriate
•Authorizing judges to permit counsel to make brief opening statements about a case to the entire jury panel prior to voir dire
•Authorizing judges to preinstruct the jury on the basic principles of law that will govern the proceedings, as agreed upon by the judge and the trial attorneys, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the jurors overall and
•Authorizing judges to provide assistance to jurors at impasse through additional or clarifying instructions and through additional closing arguments from counsel.
The council and California courts have been engaged in jury reform efforts for over 10 years. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Jury System Improvement, created in 1995, and the Task Force on Jury System Improvements proposed the rule changes approved by the council.
The council also adopted a new long-range strategic plan that will guide the direction and future of the judicial branch for the next six years. The plan, adopted by a unanimous vote, sets goals involving access, fairness and diversity independence and accountability management modernization quality of service infrastructure and judicial education.
“The new strategic plan builds on past successes to meet the current and evolving challenges of delivering quality justice in a new era,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George, chairperson of the council, said. “The plan affirms the council’s ongoing commitment to ensuring access and quality services for all Californians.”
The plan had been shaped by contributions from more than 3,200 judges, community leaders, trial court staff, attorneys, and members of the public, a council spokesperson said in a release.
The access, fairness and diversity goal provides:
“California’s courts will treat everyone in a fair and just manner. All persons will have equal access to the courts and court proceedings and programs.”
It further provides:
“Members of the judicial branch community will strive to understand and be responsive to the needs of court users from diverse cultural backgrounds. The makeup of California’s judicial branch will reflect the diversity of the state’s residents.”
The independence and accountability goal provides:
“The judiciary must maintain its status as an independent, separate, and equal branch of government. The independence of judicial decisionmaking will be protected in order to preserve the rule of law and ensure the fair, impartial, and efficient delivery of justice.”
The strategic plan was based, in part, on the results of phase II of the Public Trust and Confidence assessment conducted earlier this year. Phase II captured the views of court users and judicial branch members who participated in focus groups.
The report says that court users indicate that they hold generally high levels of confidence in the state’s courts, and have an especially high regard for judges.
The next step is for the Administrative Office of the Courts, the council’s staff agency, to develop an operational plan that will carry out the strategic plan’s mission and goals. That plan is expected to be presented to the council for its review next summer.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company