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Summary Jury Trials may be held here

Griffin Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards, who often hears cases in Pike County, was approved by the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution to pilot a new initiative which encourages settlement of civil cases with less time and money spent on court proceedings. The newly approved Summary Jury Trials offer clients a non-binding, abbreviated trial by mock jurors chosen from the jury pool. Both sides can argue their case and listen quietly as jurors discuss their decision. The filing fee of about $200 for a civil case is all either party has to pay in the case. ’The advisory jury verdict which results is intended to provide the starting point for settlement negotiations,’ said Judge Edwards. ‘The process can be a valuable reality testing tool. Provisions of the Summary Jury Trial order can be amended to meet the needs of the case. It’s available in any civil case on all issues triable by a jury. The cost savings to both clients and counties by avoiding lengthy jury trials have proven substantial in other jurisdictions. They will here for us as well.’ A judge or magistrate must preside over the Summary Jury Trial. Twelve potential jurors are asked a series of questions before hearing the case for the day. Details of the cases would not be recorded or kept on record but the jury’s deliberation and decision would give both parties the incentive to negotiate and settle their case. ’A Summary Jury Trial is the gold standard for determining the value of a case, for example knowing how a jury will divide property on a divorce and whether alimony will be awarded,’ said Edwards. ‘It can have a case settled before a jury would even be picked in a conventional trial.’ In the Griffin Judicial Circuit, all domestic cases such as child support and divorces are sent to the mediation circuit in which mediators work with parties involved. In addition to arbitration and mediation, Summary Jury Trials can help settle cases efficiently. ’An amazing statistic is that over half of all domestic cases are settled in mediation before requiring a hearing. That’s really wonderful in terms of the number of jury trials prevented and the additional expenses,’ said Edwards. ‘In 2012 I took three classes and was certified as a mediator, domestic mediator and arbitrator. I learned a lot. The Justice Center in Atlanta is a great place to be trained. It was there I learned about Summary Jury Trials, which exist in many states. They’re not new. They occur in federal courts considerably more than in state courts. It sounded like a great idea to me.’ Edwards said when arbitrators and judges decide civil cases, their decision is based on what they predict a jury would decide. ’I’ve had civil cases last as long as four weeks, which is very expensive. The county has to pay $25 to each juror each day. The savings are pretty obvious and that’s the goal,’ said Edwards. ‘Clients always ask, ‘˜What’s the jury going to do with my case, how much money am I going to get or how much money am I going to have to pay?’ That question is always the same. Now a lawyer can say, ‘˜We can get 12 jurors, put them in a room and tell them what our case is. They’ll tell us what they think our case is worth.’ The parties are free to settle it on their own or not. The purpose is to reduce the time and money it takes to resolve a case both for the parties involved and the government. Courts everywhere are looking to save taxpayer dollars and attorney fees with innovative methods that provide access to justice.’ Anyone who takes part in a Summary Jury Trial is asked to complete a questionnaire about the process and note what could make it more effective. ’I’m grateful to the members of the commission for their approval, Shinji Morokuma, director of the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution for his aid in draftsmanship and advancing the pilot project to the commission for its approval, to staff attorney Scott Teague for his research and writing assistance, to Tracy Johnson for her participation and encouragement and to Kaye Mrozinski and Geri Egan for their assistance,’ said judge Edwards. ‘The questionnaire is being prepared by professor Tim Hedeen, a commission member. After one year in the Griffin Judicial Circuit, it’s hoped Summary Jury Trials will be approved in other circuits and eventually statewide.’Â  Since the CDR approved the pilot project Judge Jason Thompson of the Fayette State Court and Judge Ann Jackson of the Fayette Probate Court have asked to be approved. Commission approval is pending.

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