New rule allows jurors to submit questions for witnesses in civil trials

Christina Stueve Apr. 3, 2012, 8:12am

Jurors in civil cases will be allowed to submit questions for witnesses, according to a new rule announced Tuesday by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The rule will become law July 1.

The Supreme Court Rules Committee has studied the rule since August, 2010.

The Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association support the rule.

John B. Simon, chair of the Rules Committee, believes the scrutiny given the proposal before its adoption will benefit jurors, lawyers, judges and the justice system.

"The parameters set forth in the rule are designed to maintain neutrality, while at the same time engaging the interest of jurors in focusing on and following the testimony, and giving trial counsel the ability to elicit evidence responsive to the questions raised," Simon said.

More than half the states and all the federal circuits permit jurors to submit questions for witnesses with or without the discretion of the trial judge, said proponents of the measure.

Chief Judge James Holderman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has been using questions by jurors for more than five years.

After attorneys finish interviewing witnesses during a trial, the judge will determine whether the jury will be allowed to submit questions for the witness.

No discussion is allowed between jurors and witnesses, however. The bailiff will collect questions and present them to the judge who will mark them as exhibits and make them part of the record.

The judge will read questions to the attorneys outside the presence of the jury and allow lawyers to object. The trial judge will rule on any objections, and the questions will be admitted, modified or excluded.

The trial judge will ask each question that is permitted and will instruct the witness to answer the question presented. The judge then provides counsel an opportunity to ask follow-up questions limited to testimony.

The Rule Committee recommended the trial judge explain the procedure to the jury; and after testimony in the trial is completed, to give the jury another final instruction.

It is anticipated that proposed jury instructions will be reviewed and published by the Supreme Court Committee on jury instructions in civil cases.

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