In 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law which reduced the size of juries in civil cases from 12 down to 6. This was a change to state civil trials, but federal courts already provide for juries of at least six people. However, only a year later, a Circuit Court judge found the change unconstitutional. Now, the Illinois Supreme Court has struck down the law, finding the state constitution intended cases to be decided by more than 6 jurors.
The General Assembly approved the change to reduce jury sizes, in conjunction with increasing the compensation for jury duty to $25 for the first day and $50 for each additional day. Proponents of the legislation said the change was needed to get a jury more representative of the general population. Many people find it difficult to take time off of work to serve jury duty, given how little they are compensated for losing their daily wages.
Opponents of the law said that smaller juries were more prone to strong personalities taking over the process. They also say smaller juries lead to more inconsistent verdicts. Some lawmakers said smaller juries were more beneficial to trial lawyers, with smaller juries potentially awarding higher damages in civil cases.
According to Christopher Hurley, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, there is not much evidence behind the idea that 6-person juries are more favorable to plaintiffs or defendants. Hurley said he does not know of any lawyer who would be opposed to increasing juror pay.
By a vote of 5-to-0, the Illinois Supreme Court Justices struck down the law. In the court's decision, Chief Justice Rita Garman wrote that the Illinois Constitution guarantees “the right of trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed.” According to the justices, a 6-person jury does not provide the same rights as a 12-person jury.
"There is ample evidence that the drafters at the 1970 Constitutional Convention believed they were specifically preserving the right to a 12-person jury when they adopted the current constitution," wrote Garman. "Transcripts from the constitutional convention debates disclose that the delegates did not believe that the legislature had the authority to reduce the size of a civil jury prior to the 1970 convention."
The case that brought the issue before the state's highest court was a medical negligence lawsuit, Kakos v. Butler. The case filed on behalf of Dr. James Kakos and his wife involved multiple counts of medical negligence and loss of consortium.
In the prior Circuit Court decision, Judge William Gomolinski similarly ruled against the new law reducing jury size. “This is what our constitution currently provides,” wrote Gomolinski, “and it may not be altered by statute as our legislature has done here.”
If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit to protect your rights, your job, or your family, we are here to help. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients in employment law, medical malpractice, civil rights, and other civil cases throughout the state of Illinois. Contact your experienced Illinois attorneys at Benassi & Benassi today for a consultation.