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Successful Binding Summary Jury Trial

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 79 Issue: 4 Dated: (January-February 1996) Pages: 181-184
M R Feagley; W M Rogers
Date Published
4 pages
As demonstrated in a complex case in the Northern District of Indiana, a binding summary jury trial can be an effective alternative-dispute-resolution technique, benefitting both courts and litigants.
In January 1995, the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division, was facing a 6-week trial that would have exhausted much of its judicial resources. Instead of laboring through a drawn-out trial, however, the parties agreed to try the case in 4 days through an alternative dispute resolution technique, a binding summary jury trial. To achieve judicial economy, the trial court streamlined virtually every aspect of its standard trial practice. The court allowed counsel to review juror cards of potential jurors days before the actual venire; ruled on all exhibit and testimony disputes prior to trial; relaxed its standards on hearsay and Rule 1006 summaries; set strict time limits on each party and timed counsel by stopwatch; and allowed cross-examination to go beyond the scope of direct examination. In the opinion of all involved, the outcome closely approximated what could have been expected from a full-scale, 6- week trial, but at a fraction of the cost to the litigants and the court system. The binding summary jury trial also gave the court insight about how to reduce its caseload, while reminding counsel of simpler and more effective ways of presenting complex trials to a jury.