SJC Releases Interim Voir Dire Rules For Massachusetts Trial Courts

By Garrett J. Bradley, Esq.

Posted on December 9, 2014

garrett-bradleyThe Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has just released interim rules to regulate the conduct of lawyers and judges in conducting voir dire under the new voir dire law which takes effect on February 15, 2015. The new law, allowing attorneys to question prospective jurors directly, makes Massachusetts the 39th state to permit direct questioning of jurors by lawyers.

Superior Court Standing Order 1-15 requires attorneys or self-represented parties to request voir dire in advance, and to specify in general what topics they intend to question jurors about. The topics for juror questioning must be those that would allow the attorney to discover what in the juror’s background and experience might influence the juror, and if they have any preset feelings or opinions that would affect their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict.

Voir dire, pronounced “vwar deer”, literally means “To speak the truth”. It has long been seen as an important tool for all lawyers entrusting their cases to a jury of fellow citizens.  Although some voir dire did occur in Massachusetts courts prior to the passage of the new law, it was most often conducted by the presiding judge, and lawyers generally had little input into which questions were asked.  The new law allows attorneys to ask questions directly.

However, attorneys will not be allowed to ask questions about “political views, voting patterns, party preferences, religious beliefs or affiliation, reading or viewing habits, patterns of charitable giving, opinions on matters of public policy, hobbies or recreational activities, or similar matters, or regarding insurance”, unless those are issues in the case, or might affect the juror’s impartiality in the particular case.

The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) approves of the new rules, stating “With the release of this order, the court has taken a tremendous step toward assuring fairness in jury trials.” The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA) also approves of the interim rules: “The option of panel versus individual voir dire, the lack of set time constraints, and ultimately leaving the approach in specific cases to the discretion of the trial judge are all enlightened features of the standing order which MATA commends.”  Like these organizations, Thornton Law Firm believes that these new rules will make the legal process more fair by allowing attorneys and litigants to root out biases, allowing cases to be decided by truly fair and impartial jury panels.

As a sponsor of the voir dire law in the House of Representatives, I applaud the SJC Committee on Juror Voir Dire and especially Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, for this reasoned, principled set of rules to guide the courts forward as we seek to make our courts even more fair and just. The committee has made it clear that this is an ongoing process. As these interim rules are put to the test in actual trials, they will be seeking input on what works and what does not from attorneys, judges and jurors so that the final rules represent the best voir dire practice possible.

Thornton Law Firm has represented thousands of plaintiffs in complex personal injury and wrongful death claims for four decades. If you need legal advice on such a claim, tell us your story here, or contact one of our Boston personal injury lawyers at 888-491-9726. Initial consultations are free of charge and held in strictest confidence.

New Pretrial Orders Issued In Transvaginal Mesh MDL

By Marilyn T. McGoldrick, Esq.

Posted on June 19, 2013

Last week the West Virginia court overseeing the vaginal mesh litigation involving Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit issued a pair of new pre-trial orders. The first rescheduled the presentation of possible bellwether cases to the court by one week, to July 25, 2013. The court will review the cases presented and decide which cases will be the first to go to trial, and in what order they will be tried. None of the other dates in the court’s pre-trial order were changed, so the first trial is still scheduled to be held on January 14, 2014 in front of Judge Joseph R. Goodwin.

The second new pre-trial order adopts a stipulation agreed to by both sides regarding documents produced in response to subpoenas to third parties. It gives Johnson & Johnson & Ethicon 30 days to review the documents and designate any portions as confidential or proprietary information. The plaintiffs will have copies of all the documents from the beginning including the 30 day period of confidentiality review. We believe this is a fair agreement and it will speed up the acquisition of the documents we believe will strengthen the plaintiffs’ cases.

Thornton Law Firm mesh lawyers continue to investigate transvaginal mesh claims against J&J and Ethicon, as well as against the other vaginal mesh manufacturers American Medical Systems, Inc., C.R. Bard, Inc., and Boston Scientific Corp. We offer free consultations. If you are one of the thousands of women who received painfully defective mesh implants, tell us your story here, or call us at 888-341-1405 to discuss your legal rights. Time limits for filing a claim are short so do not delay.

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