JURY TRIAL — THE 2 MONTHS BEFORE TRIAL
If your case gets all the way to trial, then you have come a long way indeed; however, you still have quite a long way to go yet. The duration of your trial will depend upon the facts of your case, but most personal injury cases take 3-10 trial days. For the lawyers, trial days are intense and busy days, and for the clients those days can be stressful and emotional.
As a plaintiff’s lawyer, you should be pressing the pedal to the metal to get your case to trial as soon as possible, but even under the best of circumstances, it will usually take at least a year, and sometimes much longer, to get there. The process is just inherently slow, but that all changes at trial. Things happen fast at trial. To succeed in the fast-paced pressure-packed environment that pervades in trial, you must be fully prepared and laser-focussed. Things happen so fast at trial that it can all seem like a blur, but it is actually quite structured, and it proceeds in the stages described below.
Before the trial actually begins, the lawyers for the parties are required to collaboratively submit several documents to the court for the judge’s review and approval. These pretrial submissions are intended to facilitate an organized, efficient, and just trial. They are usually due about a month before trial, and the lawyers usually start working on them about a month before that. The required pretrial submissions include those described below.
JOINT PRETRIAL STATEMENT
Ariz. R. Civ. P. 16(f) requires the parties to submit a Joint Pretrial Statement, which must contain the following information:
(A) The parties’ stipulations of material fact and applicable law;
(B) The parties’ statement of contested issues of fact and law that they agree are material or applicable;
(C) Each party’s separate statement of other issues of fact or law that it believes are material;
(D) Each party’s list of witnesses that it intends to call at trial, identifying those who will be presented solely by deposition, along with each party’s objections to any witness and the basis for any objection;
(E) Each party’s final list of exhibits to be used at trial for any purpose, including impeachment, along with each party’s objections to any exhibit and the basis for any objection. The parties should identify any exhibits they stipulated can be admitted, but such stipulations are subject to court approval;
(F) Each party’s identification of any proposed deposition summaries or parts of deposition testimony to be offered at trial other than for impeachment, with the deposition testimony designated by transcript page and line number, and with each party’s objection to the proposed summaries and designated testimony and the basis for any objection. The parties must file with the statement a copy of any proposed summary and the transcript of the designated testimony;
(G) a brief statement of the case to be read to the jury during voir dire and, if the parties cannot agree, each party’s separate statement for the court’s consideration;
(H) requested technical equipment;
(I) requested interpreters;
(J) the number of jurors and alternates, whether the alternates may deliberate, and the number of jurors required to reach a verdict;
(K) whether any party will be invoking Ariz. R. Evid. 615 regarding exclusion of witnesses from the courtroom;
(L) a brief description of settlement efforts; and
(M) how a verbatim record of the trial will be made.
As you can see, preparing the joint pretrial statement is no small task. It is not the sort of thing that can be thrown together at the last minute. You cannot even begin to draft the document until a tremendous amount of work has been done to develop the case. Furthermore, collaboratively drafting the document is a large undertaking unto itself. The stakes are quite high when you are drafting the joint pretrial statement because at trial the judge will generally hold you to what is in the joint pretrial statement. A mistake in the joint pretrial statement could potentially be fatal to your case because you might be precluded from introducing evidence that is necessary to support your claim. For example, absent a showing of good cause, witnesses cannot be called to testify and exhibits cannot be used unless they were properly listed in your joint pretrial statement.
Drafting the joint pretrial statement is a large, and (let’s be frank) somewhat tedious task. The good thing about that process is that it can provide some useful structure to help you plan out the presentation of your case.
The parties are required to include their final list of exhibits to be used at trial as part of the joint pretrial statement. In addition, most judges require the parties to meet with the clerk or bailiff, prior to trial, and: 1) physically deliver the exhibits to the court; and, 2) “Mark” all of the exhibits. Exhibits are generally marked by placing a numbered sticker or label on the document.
PROPOSED JURY INSTRUCTIONS, VERDICT FORMS & VOIR DIRE QUESTIONS
In addition to the joint pretrial statement, if the case is to be tried to a jury, then the parties are required to file the following documents concurrently: (A) an agreed-on set of jury instructions, verdict forms, and voir dire questions; and (B) any additional jury instructions, verdict forms, and voir dire questions requested, but not agreed on. Ariz. R. Civ. P. 16(f)(4)
Jury instructions are the instructions that the judge will give to the jury before the case is given to the jury to render a verdict. Verdict forms are the forms the jury will complete (i.e., fill in the blanks) to render its verdict. Voir dire questions are the questions that the attorneys propose to ask the members of the jury pool during jury selection.
The philosophies, strategies, and tactics I’ve outlined above are the principles that guide our actions at Cluff Injury Lawyers. I’ve outlined them pedagogically to help anyone who wants to better understand these principles or improve their skills in utilizing them.
Author: Brigham Cluff