The Michigan Supreme Court today adopted major rewrite of the court rules concerning jury practices, to take effect September 1. The changes adopt many reforms that have been in effect on a provisional basis in pilot projects throughout the state for the past two years. The new rules consolidate jury practices for both civil and criminal proceedings in a new MCR 2.513. Download the order here. The Court will review the changes in 2014. Several changes adopted today were opposed by the State Bar.
This month's Michigan Bar Journal contains an article by one of the pilot court judges on the rule changes, Muskegon Circuit Court judge Timothy Hicks, "The Jury Reform Pilot Project - The Envelope, Please."
Justice Hathaway dissented from the Court's order, saying that the changes "contain multiple procedures that are highly controversial and are likely to prove problematic, particularly when litigants are forced to use them by a trial judge." Specifically:
The new rules include controversial procedures such as using deposition summaries in lieu of testimony, interim jury deliberations, and interim commentary by attorneys. I agree with the overwhelming majority of public comments that oppose most of these procedures. Those comments were submitted by a broad spectrum of the legal community, and reflect a host of valid, practical and legal issues that have not been resolved. While I will not summarize those lengthy and detailed concerns here, I urge trial judges and litigants to review the comments submitted to this Court before utilizing these procedures.
Justice Markman, in response, said that the rules will accomplish the following:
"make evidence more accessible to jurors, and thereby enhance the ability of jurors to render intelligent and informed decisions concerning the significance of such evidence; second, they will afford jurors a better opportunity to discern the ‘big picture’ of cases in which they are sitting, and thereby enable them to better understand and more effectively carry out their responsibilities; third, they will enhance the quality and accuracy of juror deliberations; fourth, they will diminish opportunities for gamesmanship in the courtroom, potentially distracting and confusing jurors; fifth, they will more deeply engage, and maintain the attention of, jurors in the proceedings that they are to judge; and sixth, they will render at least somewhat less true Robert Frost’s observation that 'a jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.' "