Circuit Judge John Barberis Jr. presided over the first six-person civil jury trial in Madison County since former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law shrinking jury sizes for civil cases from 12 jurors to six.
While a six-person jury panel has been optional for several years, Quinn’s new law reduces the jury size across the board for all civil cases.
The trial, held last week, concluded with a $21,364 verdict for plaintiff David Armstead, who claims his personal property was stolen from a storage unit at Country View Storage in Staunton. and that he was lead to believe the units were protected by security cameras.
Attorney John Cunningham of Brown & James represented defendant Floyd Klaus, owner of the storage facility, at trial. He said the parties agreed to a six-person jury trial, “because it makes jury selection quicker and because the damages in that case were not significant.”
Armstead’s attorney, David Duree of David M. Duree & Associates, agreed that the six-person jury “seemed to work fine” in this case.
Cunningham said he’s tried “at least half a dozen cases” with a six-person jury over the years and doesn’t think the outcome would have changed with 12 jurors.
“My understanding is that the plaintiffs’ bar pushed for this legislation and believes that six-person juries are preferable in large cases since there will be less chance of a moderate juror holding a verdict down,” he said. “There is probably some truth to that, although it would be hard to prove that the result in a 12-person jury would have been different from the verdict rendered by a six-person jury.”
There has been one other civil jury trial so far this year. A 12-person jury entered a verdict in favor of defendant Lueders Ross Agency on Jan. 6.
Plaintiffs Eureka Hampton and Rufis Jefferson claimed they purchased insurance coverage from Lueders but were denied their claim after an October 2009 fire destroyed their home and personal contents at 2416 Adams St. in Granite City.
However, Lueders argued that Hampton knew co-applicant Jefferson was a convicted felon and acknowledged that she, too, was a convicted felon, but they failed to provide that information in their application.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs were tenants at the property and were subject to a lease with a purchase option at the time of the fire.
Circuit Judge William Mudge presided over that case.