The jury system is the purest form of democracy
“In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
(U. S. Const., 7th Amend., Ratified December 15, 1791.)
We are a proud organization of trial lawyers. We constantly work to hone our trial skills so that we can improve our abilities; whether it’s conducting a better voir dire, giving a powerful opening statement, persuasively cross-examining our opponent’s witnesses, or convincingly summing up the case in closing argument, we all want to continue to become better trial lawyers. I often say that we are in the profession of practicing law because we are always evolving and trying to get better. And we do this not just for our own professional development, but so that we are better equipped to obtain the best possible outcomes for our most deserving clients.
But let’s take a step back and remember that we, as trial lawyers representing our clients, are only half of the equation. The other half, of course, are the juries that hear and decide our clients’ cases. After all, no matter how well we prepare for trial, no matter how deserving our client is, or no matter how good our witnesses perform, in the end, it’s the jury, and only the jury, that has the power to create justice.
Justice, delivered by the jury’s verdict, or, as in many cases, obtained through a favorable settlement achieved based on the fear of the message a jury might deliver. Case by case throughout this country, it’s the voice of juries that creates positive change in our society. Whether it’s making products safer, changing unfair business practices, eliminating discrimination, ensuring a fairer work environment, or holding wrongdoers accountable, these positive changes all stem back to the powerful voice of a jury, making society better for us all.
Perhaps this is the reason that our Founding Fathers so staunchly believed in the right to a trial by jury. They had just revolted from a country run by a monarchy in a system of the haves, and the have-nots, with no juries to equalize the imbalance of power. The right to a trial by jury was so important to our Founding Fathers it was stated in the Declaration of Independence:
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. ... For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”
(Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.)
The importance of the right to trial by jury is every bit as important today as it was when the Seventh Amendment was ratified 226 years ago. As I was writing this article, I took a moment to go to the CAALA website to look up its Mission Statement, and I found the following eight stated purposes of our great organization:
“The purpose of Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles is:
- To represent the interests of plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and their clients.
- To improve the quality of legal representation by educating trial lawyers and other legal professionals.
- To encourage cooperation among members.
- To promote the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity among trial lawyers.
- To protect the rights of injured victims.
- To promote the public good through concerted efforts to secure safe products, a safe workplace, a clean environment, eliminate discrimination, and quality health care.
- To improve the administration of justice.
- To preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury.”
While all of these ideals are important, it’s the last one, “to preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury,” that is perhaps our most important purpose. This is particularly true as the right to trial by jury is under attack with more and more mandatory arbitration clauses inserted into consumer contracts, purporting to take away that valuable constitutional right.
We must make a concerted effort to educate the public of the importance of the right to trial by jury in civil cases. The jury is the great equalizer. A jury can’t be lobbied, bought or corrupted. A jury of our peers seeks the truth in a quest to produce a just and fair verdict with no stake in the outcome. Simply put, the jury system is the purest form of democracy. As trial lawyers, we are privileged, and I mean privileged, to be a part of it. But with that privilege comes the responsibility to always protect it.
The fundamental right to a trial by jury is given to us in just 50 words contained in one simple and powerful sentence: the Seventh Amendment. Let’s always make it a part of our purpose to zealously protect it.
Ricardo Echeverria is a trial attorney with Shernoff Bidart Echeverria LLP, where he handles both insurance bad-faith and catastrophic personal-injury cases. He is currently the incoming President of CAALA and was named the 2010 CAALA Trial Lawyer of the Year, the 2011 Jennifer Brooks Lawyer of the Year by the Western San Bernardino County Bar Association, and a 2012 Outstanding Trial Lawyer by the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego. He was also a finalist for the CAOC Consumer Attorney of the Year Award in both 2007 and 2009, and is also a member of ABOTA and the American College of Trial Lawyers.
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