Illinois Supreme Court Finds 6-Person Jury Law Unconstitutional

The Illinois Supreme Court has handed down a decision that affirmed a December 2015 ruling by Cook County Associate Judge William E. Gomolinski. The original lawsuit was a medical-malpractice case filed no more than a month after the law, which permitted a unilateral decision by a party to empanel 6-person juries.

The law was approved in the days just after Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner defeated Democratic Gov. Patrick J. Quinn in 2014 and was seen by many as a gift from Democrats to their allies in the plaintiffs’ bar. The argument for the law was that jurors were not paid appropriately for missing work or taking time away from family and school. The law also had increased the rate the jurors were paid across the state from a high of $17.20 per day in Cook County to $25 on the first day of service and $50 each day thereafter.

It was also argued that federal courts and other states use 6-member juries without issue. But Section 1, Article 13 of the State Constitution says, “[T]he right to trial by jury as heretofore enjoyed shall remain inviolate.”

Both sides of the case offered arguments about how jury size could potentially affect outcomes.  Opponents of the law said smaller juries decrease the length of deliberation and diversity on juries.  Supporters of the law cited studies relied upon in the federal system that showed smaller juries did not threaten a panel’s effectiveness. The federal court system has embraced the 6-person jury panel in civil cases.

Although the court commented that both sides had reasonable arguments, Chief Justice Rita B. Garman wrote there was “ample evidence that the drafters at the 1970 Constitutional Convention believed they were specifically preserving the right to a 12-person jury” when they approved the Constitution.

“Because the size of the jury – 12 people – was an essential element of the right of trial by jury enjoyed at the time the 1970 Constitution was drafted, we conclude jury size is an element of the right that has been preserved and protected in the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court reviewed transcripts of the debates over the law in the House of Representatives to determine the pay increase could not be upheld while the rest of the law was struck down.

There was much said that the law was to benefit plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers. However, there was presented no evidence that a 6-person jury favors the plaintiff over a defendant in a personal injury or medical negligence case.

It seems clear from the court’s decision that the impetus for holding the way it did was essentially based upon the clear language of the 1970 Illinois Constitution and the convention record.

James Kakos, etc., et al. v. Jerry Bauer, etc., et al., No. 120377.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois jury trials, medical negligence lawsuits, birth injury lawsuits and wrongful death cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Naperville, Rosemont, River Grove, River Forest, Mundelein, New Lenox, Wilmette, Winnetka, Wheaton, Hinsdale, St. Charles, Aurora, Joliet, Waukegan, Libertyville and Schiller Park, Ill.

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