National Center for State Courts praises Michigan Supreme Court, pilot project judges for “sustained and comprehensive commitment to enhancing jury service”
LANSING, MI, September 12, 2012 – Michigan’s comprehensive jury reforms, and the Michigan trial court judges who tested them, are being honored along with the Michigan Supreme Court by the National Center for State Courts, the NCSC announced today.
The Supreme Court and 12 trial judges are the recipients of the 2012 G. Thomas Munsterman Award for Jury Innovation, given annually by the NCSC to recognize significant improvements or innovations for juries, NCSC President Mary C. McQueen said.
“Michigan’s jury reform pilot project demonstrated a sustained and comprehensive commitment to enhancing jury service through thorough testing of in-court reforms and revisions of procedural rules,” said McQueen.
NCSC Vice President and General Counsel Robert Baldwin will present the award to the Court and pilot project judges following the Court’s first oral argument on October 9. The ceremony will take place at 10:45 a.m. in the old Supreme Court courtroom in the state Capitol building.
Effective September 1, 2011, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted a comprehensive package of jury reform court rule amendments, despite initial and intense opposition from some Michigan attorneys and judges who feared the changes, Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr., explained. Before adopting the rules, the Court conducted a two-year pilot project in which 12 judges tested proposed reforms in actual trials and reported on their experiences. The Court also surveyed jurors, who strongly favored the reforms, such as permitting jurors to take notes, submit questions for witnesses in both civil and criminal cases, and discuss the evidence among themselves before final deliberations.
“These wide-ranging reforms allow jurors to be more truly involved in the fact-finding process – and, as a result, to make better-informed decisions,” Young said.
The Court’s jury reform effort began in 2005 when then-Chief Justice Clifford W. Taylor asked Justice Stephen J. Markman to review jury reform practices in other states and to propose rules for Michigan courts. After intensive study, the Court published a series of proposed rule changes for public comment in July 2005.
Reaction from Michigan’s legal community was swift – and largely negative, Young noted. “While non-lawyers favored the reforms, lawyers and judges generally did not,” he said. Despite this opposition, the Court did not abandon the reforms, but instead authorized the 2009-2010 pilot project that led to the rules’ adoption, he explained.
“Initially, some of the pilot project judges were very skeptical about these rule changes,” Young said. “By the end of the project, they had become converts and the most enthusiastic voices in favor of changing the rules. The pilot project judges displayed great courage, not only in testing these unfamiliar procedures, but also in becoming advocates for reform.”
The pilot project judges include
• Judge Thomas P. Boyd, 55th District Court, Mason, Ingham County
• Judge William J. Caprathe (retired) and Judge Kenneth W. Schmidt, 18th Circuit Court, Bay County
• Judge Richard J. Celello, 41st Circuit Court, Dickinson/Iron/Menominee counties
• Judge Beth Gibson, 92nd District Court, Newberry, Luce/Mackinac counties
• Judge Timothy G. Hicks, 14th Circuit Court, Muskegon County
• Judge Richard W. May, 90th District Court, Charlevoix/Emmet counties
• Judge Wendy L. Potts, 6th Circuit Court, Oakland County
• Judge Donald L. Sanderson, 2B District Court, Hillsdale County
• Judge Paul E. Stutesman, 45th Circuit Court, St. Joseph County
• Judge David Viviano, 16th Circuit Court, Macomb County
• Judge Peter J. Wadel, Lake County Trial Court/79th District Court, Ludington
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Virginia, is a nonprofit court reform organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.
Michigan jury reform overview
• In civil cases, the judge “may instruct the jurors that they are permitted to discuss the evidence among themselves in the jury room during trial recesses.”
• Jurors can, with the judge’s permission, submit questions to witnesses through the judge. Criminal procedure court rules already contained such a provision, but the new rule includes jurors in civil cases as well.
• Jurors can, if permitted by the judge, take notes during trial; if the judge allows note taking, jurors must be allowed to use those notes during the jury’s deliberations.
• The jury can request to view “property or … a place where a material event [such as a crime scene] occurred.”
• After the jury is sworn, the judge “shall provide the jury with pretrial instructions reasonably likely to assist in its consideration of the case,” covering “the duties of the jury, trial, procedure, and the law applicable to the case ….” The rule also requires the court to give jurors copies of the instructions.
• The judge may “authorize or require” attorneys to provide jurors with “a reference document or notebook,” which would include a list of witnesses, relevant provisions in statutes, and copies of any documents at issue, such as a contract. Other items, such as preliminary jury instructions, trial exhibits, “and other admissible information,” can also be added to the notebook.
• Where it is appears likely that a deposition will be read to the jury, the judge “should encourage the parties to prepare concise, written summaries of depositions” for the jury instead of having the full deposition read aloud.
• In addition to making opening and closing statements, attorneys may, “in the court’s discretion, present interim commentary at appropriate junctures of the trial.”
• Judges may “fairly and impartially sum up the evidence” after closing arguments, while also reminding jurors that they must decide fact issues for themselves. The rule bars judges from commenting on a witness’s credibility or stating a conclusion “on the ultimate issue of fact before the jury.”
• Judges are required to give the jury a copy of the final jury instructions to take into the jury room for final deliberations. In addition, judges must invite jurors to ask any questions they may have to clarify the instructions.
• In addition to jurors’ notes and final jury instructions, the judge “may permit the jurors to take into the jury room the reference document … as well as any exhibits and writings admitted into evidence.”
• The judge “may not refuse a reasonable request” from jurors to review evidence or testimony as they deliberate.
• If the jury appears to reach an impasse during deliberations, the judge “may invite the jurors to list the issues that divide or confuse them in the event that the judge can be of assistance in clarifying or amplifying the final instructions.”
• The court can schedule expert testimony to assist jurors’ understanding of the issues – for example, by having expert witnesses testify sequentially. Another option is to allow each expert to be present for the opposing expert’s testimony, so that the expert can “aid counsel in formulating questions to be asked of the testifying expert on cross-examination.”
For the complete text of these rules, see http://www.courts.michigan.gov/supremecourt/Resources/Administrative/2005-19_06-29-11_order.pdf.
—Michigan Supreme Court Public Information Office
September 12, 2012
When judges become partisan players, the People’s rights will perish.
Beware of judges who tell you how they will rule on cases. They are almost never rule of law judges, because rule of law judges must follow the law, not their personal policy preferences. Those folks who can tell you whether a legal decision is good or bad without reading it are not constitutional conservatives because their policy preferences are not dictated by the law.
For nearly 15 years, I have stood firmly and proudly as a member of a Rule of Law Supreme Court majority that established a judicial system that respects the rights of the People in a self-governing constitutional republic. Our decisions have consistently enforced the right of the People, not judges, to make their own policy choices. This principle applies to the People’s legislative policy choices, their contractual choices and, most important, to the constitutional policies they have enshrined in our constitution.
The People of Michigan have specifically preserved to themselves the right directly to control their government through policies advanced in ballot initiatives and referenda. It is the constitutional obligation of judges to respect this constitutional right, not thwart it.
Those who opposed the People’s right to control their government by ballot proposals were just as adamant that the People not be given an opportunity to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman (2004) and to prevent government sanctioned racial and gender discrimination (2006). They failed. Both of these controversial initiatives were properly placed on the ballot because they complied with all of the ballot petition rules. The voters got to decide on their merits.
Again, the People have proposed a number of constitutional amendments for consideration at the November general election.
As before, opponents of those proposals launched legal challenges to keep them off the ballot. Some critics of the proposals have asserted that the Court should have kept them off the ballot because they were “bad policy.” This isn’t the Court’s function in a constitutional republic. Whether a policy is good or not is a question that the people or the people’s representatives must decide. Our job was to determine whether the proposals complied with the law that establishes the ground rules for voter initiated petitions.
Therefore, on Wednesday, the same Rule of Law majority – that has always striven to follow the law – respected the People’s right of self-governance and ordered those ballot proposals that complied with the republication requirements to be placed on the ballot. As our constitution requires, the People of this State will decide in November whether these proposals should be adopted.
While some may question the wisdom of one or more of these ballot proposals, one cannot, consistent with the principles of a constitutional government, permit or encourage judges to negate the People’s right to decide those policy questions where the proponents have complied with the laws to place them on the ballot.
Chief Justice Bob Young
2011 JUDICIAL RESOURCES RECOMMENDATIONS, INCLUDING CUTTING SOME JUDGESHIPS, ENDORSED BY UNANIMOUS MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT
Report by State Court Administrative Office calls for eliminating 45 trial court judgeships, four judgeships on the Michigan Court of Appeals; 31 new trial court judgeships also needed in some areas, SCAO finds, but does not recommend additions because of state, local economic climates.
LANSING, MI, August 17, 2011 – The state must eliminate 45 trial court judgeships as a first step toward “rebalancing the workload” of Michigan’s courts, Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. said today, in announcing the findings of the 2011 Judicial Resources Recommendations report.
The report, which also recommends reducing the number of Michigan Court of Appeals judges from 28 to 24, finds that some trial courts need a combined 31 new trial court judgeships. But the State Court Administrative Office, which produced the report, said it was not recommending any new judgeships at this time because of the state’s economic climate.
Young said that the Supreme Court unanimously endorses the report’s recommendations. “The Court has historically not taken a position either way on the report’s findings, so the Court’s unanimous endorsement is recognition of the superior quality of the JRR,” he noted. The Michigan Court of Appeals, the Michigan Judges Association, the Michigan Probate Judges Association, and the Michigan District Judges Association also endorse the findings, Young added.
“This is unprecedented, not just in Michigan but nationally, to have a state court system not only recognize that it needs to shrink, but also have a practical plan to accomplish that goal,” said the chief justice. “And to have the universal endorsement of the judiciary’s leadership – that has never happened before. This is an aggressive, but achievable, set of recommendations. We are unaware of any reduction of this magnitude attempted anywhere in our country.”
Gov. Rick Snyder also supports the recommendations, Young said.
State Court Administrator Chad C. Schmucker explained that SCAO determined each trial court’s need for judges based on workload.
“We use a weighted caseload formula, so that we’re not looking just at numbers of cases, but also at how much of a judge’s time a particular type of case needs,” Schmucker said. “For example, a medical malpractice case takes longer to process than a traffic ticket. We then do an extended analysis to take into account other factors that might affect a court’s workload – 2
population and case filings trends, for example. The result is the right number of judges for that court’s workload and environment.”
The Court of Appeals analysis focused primarily on numbers of new case filings and opinions, Schmucker said. The appellate court’s filings have declined over the years; from 2006 to 2010, filings fell by 22 percent, he noted.
The SCAO report recommends eliminating unneeded judgeships by attrition, when a judge leaves office or dies.
SCAO, the Supreme Court’s administrative agency, issues a Judicial Resources Recommendations report every two years. While past reports have recommended reductions in the state’s trial and Court of Appeals benches, those recommendations were not implemented, Young said.
“The judicial branch can only recommend; it’s up to the Legislature to act, and we hope that they will act this time,” the chief justice said. “We would certainly not need to make as many reductions now if past Legislatures had heeded SCAO’s findings.”
For a complete list of proposed reductions and findings of needed judgeships, please see the Judicial Resources Report online at http://www.courts.michigan.gov/scao/resources/publications/reports/JRRSummary2011.pdf.
– Michigan Supreme Court Public Information Office
LANSING, MI, May 3, 2011 – Educators seeking to spark Law Day discussions with their students will get an assist from the Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Government Television this week, when MGTV airs an interview between MGTV Executive Director Bill Trevarthen and Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr.
“A Conversation with … Chief Justice Robert Young” will air on MGTV on Friday, May 6 at 1:17 p.m. EDT. The interview will focus on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision, which established the “separate but equal” doctrine, providing legal support for decades of racial segregation.
Young said that Plessy, which was overruled by the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education, “is sometimes taught as though it was some kind of legal aberration, one that couldn’t happen today because we know better now. That view is wrong, in my opinion. First, Plessy is an example of how a court decision can affect people’s lives – and in that case, literally millions of lives – in profound and sometimes deeply harmful ways. Moreover, Plessy is a textbook example of bad judicial decision-making, as a decision that really was not guided by the Constitution but by the trends of the moment.”
The catalyst for Plessy was an attempt by Homer Adolph Plessy, a 30-year-old shoemaker who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth black, to sit in a whites-only train car after buying a first-class ticket on a Louisiana railroad. He was prosecuted under Louisiana’s Separate Car Act, which provided that “all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state, shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races …” The penalty for sitting in the wrong compartment was a $25 fine or 20 days in jail. Plessy challenged the Separate Car Act under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, but a majority of the Supreme Court upheld the law. Justice Henry Billings Brown, writing for the majority, said that “[I]n the nature of things, [the Fourteenth Amendment] could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”
Trevarthen said, “One of MGTV’s goals is to provide students and educators with a working knowledge of government, so this partnership with the Supreme Court fits very well with our mission. We hope that teachers will use this program to explore the Plessy decision, and the issues it raises, with their students.”
– Michigan Supreme Court press release
To watch MGTV’s Conversation with Chief Justice Young, click on the following link: MGTV Conversation with Chief Justice Young