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ITLA President Addresses Jury Participation in Illinois Trials

Earlier this month our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers discussed the new rule change from the Illinois Supreme Court which will explicitly allow judges to provide juries with the opportunity to ask questions in state civil cases. The rule change will go into effect in the summer, July 1st. It will provide a framework by which juries may become a more active part of the trial process. The careful, measured step was not reached lightly as various legal professionals in the state held hearings and closely compared how the questioning has worked in other parts of the state.

According to the rule, judges will be charged with ensuring the questioning process works efficiently and fairly. When appropriate, jury members will be able to submit written questions after both attorneys have had an opportunity to conduct their examination of a witness. The attorneys for each side will be able to voice objections to any questions before they are submitted to a witness. The judge will have final say on what questions are submitted and in what form. Attorneys will then have the opportunity to conduct follow-up examinations afterward in order to clear up any ambiguities with the involved issues raised in the submitted questions. Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm appreciates that these changes may become an important way for jury members to become more active parts of the system and ultimately reach fair, measured decisions in each individual case.

The same sentiments were recently expressed by the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Assocaition, Jerry A. Latherow in a letter published in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. The letter explained how allowing jury questions may fill in gaps in testimony to ensure that jury members are making decision based on a full assessment of the information. There is generally nothing to fear from giving juries open access to information when making decisions in these cases.

Those of us working on Illinois medical malpractice cases-and all other civil suits-understand the value and importance placed on citizen participation in the justice system. Since our founding, the nation has been built on settling legal disagreements based on fair assessment by other community members-decisions cannot be handed down on high from some third-party. We are collectively responsible for our own justice system, which is why the jury system is the best way to made decisions in each individual situation on a case-by-case basis.

Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers agree with Latherow’s assessment that this rule is a “well-considered innovation that has the potential to create a better functioning legal system to the benefit of all Illinoisans.” It is for the same reason that we stand against unwanted and dangerous legislative intrusions into the system which would take away decision-making power from juries in exchange for blanket rules made by politicians. The justice system must remain one where each case is given individual assessment based on the specific facts and evidence presented in that case. Fellow community members on juries must be given the ability to hear that evidence, assess the situation, and reach fair conclusions about what justice demands in the specific case before them.

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