Today, I wanted to blog about the plaintiff trial lawyer's fear concerning the trial judge who either changes or limits the jury selection process as we known it. Last week, retired Cook County trial judge Lynn Egan hosted a luncheon seminar on the topic of the vast discretion of trial judges during jury selection. Of course, as a trial lawyer, I am always vexed by a trial judge who wants to limit voir dire, because I am afraid a "bad apple" juror will slip through the process and destroy my case--a case that I have worked on for 3-5 years and spent $100,000 plus to prove. I need only read one more story in the newspaper about juror misconduct to feed my fear. Stories now appear weekly about mistrials or new trials granted because a juror did not disclose an obvious bias or disqualifying information. Obviously, when the trial judge limits the traditional jury selection process, the chance for a prospective bad apple juror getting on the jury goes way up. Therefore, in this Blog, I want to alert trial lawyers to the discretion that trial judges have in the jury selection process and, in some later Blogs, offer some back-up plans for the "in a hurry" judge.
As retired Judge Egan highlighted, a trial judge has the authority to alter the statutorily prescribed methods of selecting a jury, citing People v. Moss, 108 Ill.2d 270, 275-76(1985). This discretion is emboldened by People v. Abram, 2016 IL App(1st) 132785, par 59, where the court found that so long as the selection process provided a "reasonable assurance that prejudice would be discovered" the change in the selection process was allowable. Do you feel assured? This trial discretion over the jury selection process is further supported by People v. McCormick, 328 Ill.App.3d 378, where the court's use of a "strike system" for jury selection was affirmed (the parties were required to simultaneously exercise unlimited peremptory challenges until the jury was chosen.)Forget about panels of four, or tendering panels)
The bottom line to remember is that the trial judge has discretion to change the way jury selection is historically done. the Judge does not have to allow you to examine the jurors in panels of four, which has been done for over a hundred years in Illinois. Okay. I get it. I have had to use the strike system twice in Cook County jury trials. But in my next Blog, I want to suggest ideas and techniques for combating the rush to select a jury and protecting your case against an abbreviated voir dire.