April 7, 2012

Jurors May Be Able to Submit Witness Questions in Illinois Nursing Home Abuse Cases

by Levin & Perconti

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reported yesterday on ratification of a new Supreme Court rule that our Chicago nursing home neglect attorneys know may eventually have ramifications on how trials are conducted in local cases. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243 will take effect in a few months, on July 1st, and will allow jurors the option of submitting questions to witnesses.

The new rule explicitly authorizes juror questions and laid out a framework for how the process might work. According to the report, jurors will be given the chance to submit written questions to witnesses after both attorneys in the case have had the opportunity to conduct their direct and cross examinations. The judge will meet with counsel outside the presence of the jury at that time and review the questions. The lawyers will have the opportunity to issue any objections to having the witnesses answer the questions. At that point the judge will make the decision about whether or not certain questions will be allowed, excluded, or modified. After the judge submits the questions, both sides in the case will be allowed to follow up with live testimony related to the scope of the information provided in the answers. This is important because a particular answer written and submitted to the juror may require more clarification, which attorneys will be allowed to provide.

Our Illinois nursing home abuse lawyers know that while this may change the practice in some local courts, use of juror questions is not a new practice. All federal circuits and about half of the states allow these written questions to be submitted in civil cases. In fact, Illinois practice did not specifically disallow the questioning. However, the new rule explicitly allows it and lays out the details of the process.

Even though this is not exactly a novel tactic, the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee conducted a methodical evaluation of the impact of the rule to ensure that it was fair and balanced. According to the article, the rule change was first proposed last August. A hearing was eventually held last year where judges and lawyers shared their perspective with the Rules Committee on the best practices and implications as it related to these juror questions. The goal was to craft a rule that was fair to all sides and safeguarded the trial process, while creating a new tool for jurors to become more involved in the case in front of them.

“This is an extenuation of the process to a generally passive participant, but the most important participant of a jury trial. It allows them to be sure in how they’re reaching their verdict, in a way,” noted the Chairman of the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee, John B. Simon.

Of course, each Chicago nursing home neglect lawyer at our firm will be following closely as this process is added to local civil trials. Beyond making jurors more active in the process, the questions will allow attorneys a better idea of the perspective and thought process of the jurors themselves. Legal arguments and strategies may be altered slightly depending on how the questioning affects certain trials.

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