View My Stats

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Ask the Judge" column continues in La Prensa SA, 12-25

Ask the Judge: Serving on a Jury in JP Court
Judge Steve Walker

Six months ago I informed you that more and more plaintiffs & defendants are choosing not to hire an attorney but represent themselves in the courtroom to save attorney’s fees in a jury trial.

I pointed out that in many cases this is not the best plan to assure you a victory in the courtroom especially if you are being sued for thousands of dollars or you are the one filing the lawsuit.

This week let’s briefly discuss what happens if you are picked for a jury to hear those cases where plaintiffs or defendants come in to represent their own cases and those that do hire lawyers.

When one side has hired a lawyer, it puts the legally unrepresented side at a severe disadvantage which affects the courtroom procedure somewhat for trial and for the jury.

In an effort to level the playing field so to speak we afford some latitude to those representing themselves and in some cases guide them through courtroom protocol so the jury can render an informed decision on the case at hand.

We make some adjustments in allowing defendants/plaintiffs to plead their cases since they are usually not familiar with courtroom procedure.

Once it is decided that the case will be heard by a jury of six rather than a judge, the jury will determine the merits of the case and decide the outcome based on evidence presented by both sides in the trial.

To serve on a jury in a Justice of the Peace Court, you first receive a summons to appear on a designated date for a possible trial. In Pct. 2 we hold jury trials every Friday. Potential jury members are selected from a jury pool downtown and assigned to various courts around Bexar County. Some are assigned to County & District Courts downtown at the main courthouse, while others are assigned to JP Courts around the county.

In a Justice of the Peace Court only six jurists are selected per trial since we handle only Class C Misdemeanors unlike the courts downtown that conduct major trials.

The trial begins when the judge reads the charge and swears in potential jurors.

Once completed, the plaintiff, followed in turn by the defendant (without or without lawyer) begins directing questions to the jurors during what is called “voir dire.” Usually general questions like, “Can you be fair in hearing the case?” or “is there anybody here who feels they cannot be objective?” and so on are appropriate.

After six jurors are selected, they take the oath and are sworn in. Jurors not selected make leave or stay and observe the trial.

The trial begins and jurists listen to testimony until both sides rest their cases. The Judge then gives the jury instructions and they go into the jury room where they deliberate and make a decision. Upon return to the courtroom the verdict is read, and jurists are dismissed and thanked for their service.

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

No comments: