Mar 17

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ABOTA Foundation Hosting “A More Perfect Jury: Seating a Fair and Diverse Panel”

On April 6, the American Board of Trial Advocates Foundation is hosting a daylong virtual program “to understand and improve the exercise of [peremptory challenges], explore where our jury pools come from, and understand why a diverse panel is so important.” The program is part of a multiyear symposium addressing the challenges facing the American jury system. Judges, clerks, and law students can attend without charge. Details are available here.

Courthouse Deputies Team Up to Save a Juror’s Life

KIRO TV-7 in Seattle reports Shirley Bennet suffered a stroke while awaiting jury selection in Arapahoe County, Colorado. An assembly of 19 courthouse deputies came to her assistance. The TV report contains video footage of rescue efforts. Last week she returned to the courthouse and said to the courthouse personnel, “You guys do this every day, many times a day, for years and years and years. And I probably know there are times that you’ve saved lives, you helped people, and not a single person said thank you. And I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Designing New Courthouse Space? Remember Jurors Have Needs

The National Center for State Courts recently published “Court Space reForm” to assist courts that are planning to redesign functional spaces to support court service trends. It includes a courthouse self-assessment tool to help courts better understand where they are currently at and identify opportunities to improve or expand their courthouse space’s serviceability. The assessment tool asks several questions about the current courthouse and design topics that may be of interest to help define a space reform plan so that the courthouse will support and enhance court operations including care for juror needs.

Losing Plaintiffs in Case Against Elon Musk Seek New Trial Citing Improper Jury Instructions

According to the National Law Journal, Tesla investors recently asked a federal judge to reverse a jury verdict that Elon Musk and his electric vehicle company did not violate federal securities laws with a 2018 plan to take Tesla private. The plaintiffs’ attorneys, in a motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, argued that a February jury verdict “was the result of an erroneous deliberation process influenced by prejudicial and improper attorney argument, speculative testimony, and confusing jury instructions.” The litigation stemmed from Musk's tweets that he was considering taking Tesla private, had secured funding, and confirmed investor support. The filing claimed Musk’s counsel failed to disprove that these tweets were material, or that there was a substantial likelihood that a reasonable shareholder would consider them important. Establishing the materiality of the tweets was necessary to proving the investors’ theory that the allegedly fraudulent statements caused their Tesla stock to lose millions, or even billions, in value. The motion alleged that since the evidence supported that the tweets were material, the only issues left for the jury to decide should have been the question of causation and the amount of damages. Last year, in a summary judgment order, Senior U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, who is presiding over the case, found that Musk's tweets regarding funding and investor support were false and reckless in a summary judgment order. The investors now claim attorneys for Musk and Tesla improperly revisited issues decided on summary judgment, causing the jury to no longer focus on evidence relevant to the remaining element of materiality. The investors assert, “[W]ith those elements of liability decided in favor of Plaintiff, letting the jury’s verdict stand would amount to a manifest miscarriage of justice. A new trial should be ordered for the purpose of having a jury decide the damages caused by Musk's tweets.”

Lawyers Claim Federal & State Courts in Virginia Over-Grant Summary Judgment to the Detriment of Jury Trial Rights

Summary judgment motions are also a hot topic beyond the investors’ case against Tesla and Mr. Musk. According to the National Law Journal, the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA) filed an amicus brief in a slip-and-fall tort case pending before a 4th Circuit Federal Court panel. VTLA submitted statistics showing plaintiffs are not getting a full hearing in federal courts in Virginia and elsewhere in the 4th Circuit. They show over 8% of all pending civil cases made it to trial in 1973. Fast forward to 2019, the last year the U.S. Court System published statistics, and that number dropped to 0.7%. It's even worse within the 4th Circuit: only 0.3% of civil cases made it to trial across the court's nine-court jurisdiction. They argue, “The unabashed and escalating enthusiasm for summary judgment seems remarkable in view of the fact any error in its use to dispose of a case violates the fundamental right to trial by jury. . . . The dangers of erroneous use of summary judgment are heightened because how a district court decides the issues raised by a summary judgment motion has long been a subject of great controversy and lack of clarity.” The amicus brief further noted summary judgment has virtually been abolished in Commonwealth of Virginia courts.