A new project at New York University Law School is studying and promoting public discussion of the continuing decline in the number of civil jury trials in American courtrooms. The school is giving voice to the sentiment of countless lawyers who view the phenomenon of “the vanishing jury trial” with dismay, believing it disserves clients and the broader citizenry, whose right to a jury trial was codified in the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal blog post, fewer than 1 out of 100 federal civil cases goes to a jury, less than a fifth of the number resolved by jury trial fifty years ago. In state courts, trials have declined by more than 50 percent in the last twenty years.
Why should this trouble the average citizen? While many consider the right to a jury trial a protection designed for criminal defendants, the Founders believed equally that the civil jury trial should serve as a check against the arbitrary or despotic exercise of power by the government. For example, where a small business owner is caught up in a dispute with a large distributor that has breached its promises under a contract, the owner may be forced to file a lawsuit to protect his or her rights. Giving the authority to decide the merits of his case to a jury of randomly selected members of the community ensures that a government bureaucrat cannot intercede on behalf of the large corporate distributor, which may have more political sway than that individual small business owner. In short, the civil jury trial is about fairness, and with its decline comes the real threat that cases will be decided less fairly. It takes power away from average citizens and concentrates it even more potently in the hands of judges and the legislators who write our laws.
The lawyers at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner have been trying cases for injured clients and their families for over sixty years. If you or someone you care about has been harmed by someone else’s carelessness or deliberate act, call us today at 713-396-3964 or toll free at 800-594-4884.