This week's edition of the Grand Rapids Business Journal (January 27, 2014) includes an interesting article entitled "Is Trial by Jury Headed for Extinction?" The author interviewed several local attorneys, including Varnum's own Ron DeWaard, the current president of the West Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. DeWaard noted that jury trials are becoming less common because of the increasing cost of trials brought on by the expansion of technology. "DeWaard said that 40 or even 30 years ago, trial typically would include only a handful of documents—a stack an inch thick would be considered a lot of documents. But today, lawyers are typically dealing with hundreds or thousands of documents for each case, which are likely to include e-mails and even text messages." Due to the proliferation of jury trial "horror stories" in the media, many clients also perceive jury trials as being more risky than such trials were viewed in the past.
Judge Jonker of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan was also interviewed for the article. His comments emphasize the importance of jury trials in our legal system, noting "the twin theoretical roots of the system are deep-seeded beliefs. One, that the power of government should always be tempered and limited by the judgment of ordinary citizens; and two, that the best and ultimate source of power in our system is the collective judgment of ordinary citizens." Judge Jonker also agreed that cost is a significant factor in why so few cases go to trial, but noted that the court can play a role in helping to reduce the cost of trials by for example, limiting the length of trial, something that Judge Jonker says that he does "in almost every civil case."
The full article can be found at http://www.grbj.com/articles/78850-is-trial-by-jury-headed-for-extinction