Robert Grey Becomes ABA President, Launches American Jury Initiative

ATLANTA, Aug. 10, 2004 – Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Va., who took office today as president of the _, announced he is devoting his term to creating better justice through better juries via the American Jury Initiative. The Initiative has organized two groups to accomplish that goal – the American Jury Project, which is working to produce a single set of modern jury standards the ABA can propose as a model, and a blue-ribbon Commission on the American Jury that will be working on outreach to the public, the profession and the courts.

The reform effort comes as a new public opinion poll, released Monday by the _, reveals that Americans have a profound belief and trust in the jury system, and disproves the popular notion that Americans consider jury duty to be a burden to be avoided. Grey noted, during a news conference at the ABA Annual Meeting in Atlanta, that despite such beliefs, courts around the country report serious problems with low response rates to jury summonses.

In remarks prepared for the news conference, Grey drew a parallel between jury service and voting, noting that they are “about the last opportunities left to regular Americans who want to participate in making democracy work – and there is a similar dichotomy. We believe in it wholeheartedly, but serving on a jury today may just not be convenient. If we are to improve the response rate to summonses, we must work to strengthen Americans’ understanding that the system they so respect works only when they are actively involved.”

Three-quarters (75 percent) of those polled rejected the assertion that jury duty is a burden to be avoided. Instead, the poll revealed that Americans strongly believe that jury service is important even if it seems inconvenient – a belief held even more strongly by those who have previously been called to jury duty. And even beyond “important,” 58 percent consider jury duty a privilege, and a responsibility they look forward to fulfilling. Noted Grey, “Interestingly – but not surprisingly – people who have been called for jury service believe this even more strongly than those who have not, and a majority of those who have been on a jury would like to do it again.”

Moreover, a large majority of Americans – 75 percent – would want a jury, rather than a judge, to decide their case if they were ever a participant in a trial.

“If we are to sustain Americans’ respect for the jury system,” Grey said, the legal profession must take steps to move the jury experience into the 21st century.

“The _ spends much of its energy and resources on improving the justice system,” Grey said. “We’ve looked at prosecutors. We’ve looked at the independence of the judiciary. We’ve looked at public defenders and indigent defense funding. We’ve looked at juvenile justice. We’ve looked at and worked to improve virtually every aspect of the system – except juries. No one focuses on jurors.” He pledged during his year as ABA president to “speak on behalf of American jurors.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is honorary co-chair of the American Jury Commission, which has three co-chairs – New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye, Chicago lawyer Manuel Sanchez, and Oscar Criner, foreman of the Arthur Andersen jury in 2002. The American Jury Project is chaired by Phoenix lawyer Patricia Refo.

Additionally, Grey is working to review, unify and update ABA programs to increase diversity in the legal profession, to advance the ABA’s international rule of law efforts, and to safeguard the profession’s independence.

The telephone survey on juries was conducted by Harris Interactive within the United States from July 15 through July 18, 2004, among a nationwide cross section of 1,029 adults, aged 18 or older. Of these, 693 had been called for jury service in the past. Figures for age, sex, race, and geographic region were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population.

With a probability sample of this size, there is a 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus 3.1 percent of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy.

With more than 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.

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