Massachusetts Passes “Trial Court Bill”
Yesterday, July 22, 2014, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Senate took the progressive step of passing House Bill 4123, more commonly referred to as the “Trial Court Bill.”
Prior to enactment, Massachusetts trial courts did not allow attorney conducted voir dire and prohibited attorneys from suggesting a specific monetary amount for damages in a civil trial. Under the flawed system, potential jurors with biases against the civil justice system, and those who have been indoctrinated by the corporate public relations campaign known as tort reform, went unnoticed and ended up on juries. While every citizen has a right to their own opinion, the parties involved in a trial have a right to know where each juror stands in the discussion.
Moreover, jurors were left to speculate on how to value a plaintiff’s pain and suffering in determining damages with no guidance from the court. Having conducted numerous focus groups in preparation for trial in Massachusetts, the response is invariably the same - “what is the plaintiff looking for?”
The majority of states allow attorney conducted voir dire. Given that Massachusetts is such a progressive state, it is surprising how long it took us to follow suit. Opponents against allowing attorney conducted voir dire rationalized that the system would be inefficient and thus costly. An independent study by the Superior Court found just the opposite.
The new transparent system will allow attorneys to make educated decisions about who they want on their juries through frank discussions about a civil case. Additionally, jurors themselves will be able to make educated decisions about how to value a case. The House Bill is a resounding success for not only the plaintiff’s bar, but the defense bar as well since it truly promotes justice and equality in our legal system; a goal that we both strive for.
Special thanks goes out to the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) for all their hard work in championing this bill which is being submitted to the Governor for signature by the end of the month.
Joseph J. Russo, Esq.