Americans are giving up a key right … without realizing it

Save Our Juries website aims to protect and preserve the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury

Jul 03, 2014, 17:00 ET from American Board of Trial Advocates

DALLAS, July 3, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While a majority of Americans understand that the right to a trial by a jury of their peers in civil actions is vital to our system of justice, most are not aware that this fundamental constitutional protection is in danger of being limited and severely restricted, and is slowly being eroded by social, political and economic forces.

The American Board of Trial Advocates launched its "Save Our Juries" effort with the unveiling of . The goal of the website is to help visitors understand and appreciate one of America's most basic constitutional rights — the civil jury trial — and why it is in jeopardy. According to Mark P. Robinson, Jr., national president of the American Board of Trial Advocates, the informational website is geared toward the public — not lawyers. 

The website is intended to educate visitors about the Seventh Amendment and why it matters, and to provide real-life stories of how Americans have used the jury trial to defend themselves when wrongfully accused, or to obtain justice when they have been victims of wrongdoing. The site was launched in conjunction with the Fourth of July, symbolizing the recognition by the founders of our country that the right to a jury trial is an essential liberty which they would no longer be denied.

"American colonists understood the urgency and significance of the jury trial after experiencing a justice system without citizen participation," said Robinson. "Unfortunately, this pivotal part of our legal system has diminished. We may not understand the significance until it's too late — until we need this right and it's no longer there."

Robinson cited studies by the National Center for State Courts and other organizations showing that there has been an alarming downward trend occurring in the nation's civil courts. For example, in 1962, the percentage of federal civil cases resolved by jury trial was 5.5%. By 1982 that number had fallen to 2.6%, and by 2002 it was 1.2%. In 45 of the 75 most populous U.S. counties, the total number of civil trials fell 52% between 1992 and 2005, from 22,451 to 10,813. Individual states show similar trends. In 1997, there were 3,369 civil jury trials in Texas state courts, yet in 2012 there were fewer than 1,200. According to an Oregon State Bar Bulletin, some counties in Oregon go years without having a single civil jury trial. 

Save Our Juries emphasizes that the Seventh Amendment is just as important as the freedoms and guarantees recognized in other amendments provided in the Bill of Rights. "If someone threatened to remove, restrict or limit the right to freedom of speech, religion, or the right to bear arms, the public outcry would be widespread and immediate," Robinson said. "The right to a civil jury trial is essential to our liberty and to our system of justice."

The mission of Save Our Juries is to uphold the jury system and the right provided by the Seventh Amendment by educating the American public about the history and the value of the civil jury trial. The site describes how jury trials allow citizens a forum for their grievances to be heard by a group of their peers in order to produce a fair outcome, and why the justice system is for everyone, not just for those who have the means to pay for it. The site also informs visitors as to disturbing issues and trends currently affecting and endangering the jury trial. Empty courtrooms in states throughout the country and the significant and rapid decline in the number of civil jury trials is a clear signal that America is not providing all of its citizens equal access to justice.

Save Our Juries warns that civil juries are all that stands between an all-powerful government and its citizens. "ABOTA created Save Our Juries to educate and mobilize citizens in the fight to save our disappearing Seventh Amendment right," Robinson added.  "Like any Constitutional guarantee, the right to a civil jury trial must be preserved, and we have to be prepared to fight to protect it."

The American Board of Trial Advocates:
Save Our Juries is sponsored by American Board of Trial Advocates, which was founded in 1958 and is comprised of some of the most respected plaintiff and defense civil attorneys in the country. ABOTA's mission is to protect and preserve the civil jury system, and to uphold the jury system by educating the American public about the history and value of the right to trial by jury.

For more information:
Brian Tyson
Office:  (214) 871-7523
Cell:  (214) 287-8351

SOURCE American Board of Trial Advocates