What topic would have drawn California’s governor and chief justice to a lecture hall in Sacramento’s Oak Park on a Friday afternoon? The “crisis facing our jury system,” of course.
Gov. Jerry Brown and Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye spoke at a town hall focused on the importance and decline of civil jury trials at the McGeorge School of Law.
“Preserving the civil jury is a challenge, it’s important and it’s very much at the heart of democracy,” Brown told the sparsely populated room of lawyers and law students.
The American Board of Trial Advocates is comprised of attorneys focused on preserving the civil jury trial. The trial advocates trace their beginnings to 1957, when a group of young lawyers formed the organization believing the “the jury system was under fierce attack by the press, legislators, judges and scholars,” according to its website.
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The group describes Brown’s own father, former Gov. Pat Brown, as a one-time foe, “who even suggested a commission to hear workers’ compensation, liability and other civil cases.”
The trial advocates say the jury system is again under threat, largely pointing to an increase in arbitration agreements meant to prevent people from pursuing jury trials, an unwillingness of citizens to serve on juries and the high cost of trials for litigants.
Cantil-Sakauye, who took over the job in 2011 after being appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was interviewed before the crowd by Mark Robinson, national vice-president of the lawyers’ organization. The chief justice said she’s served as a juror on two trials and believes the system works.
“I absolutely believe the jury system is effective and I can say it as a deliberating juror, a presiding judge and from a review of the evidence developed,” she said. “Jury trials are not necessarily efficient, but they’re not supposed to be. They are the search for truth, the search for justice.”