Defense Research Institute poll shows most people are confident in the fairness of our civil courts

A poll recently released by the Defense Research Institute found that an overwhelming majority of respondents found that our civil courts are fair.

Check out the DRI’s release here. Note that the headline says “41% Doubt Fairness of Civil Courts” when the article explains that 58% expressed confidence in court decisions.

There are other interesting nuggets here as well. 83% said that the side with the most money for lawyers usually wins. That’s really interesting in terms of personal injury litigation, where generally only one side has money for lawyers, and the other side only has a lawyer at all because of the existence of a contingent fee agreement.

57 to 59 percent said that they would tend to favor an individual in a dispute with an insurance, oil or financial company.

Every day we battle the misperception that our clients are out for “jackpot justice” from a jury system that is out of control. The poll results reflected this. 48% thought juries made decisions based on personal opinion rather than the facts and the law. 69% thought that judges base their decisions on the facts and the law and not personal opinion.

Here’s the interesting part: 64% said that they would prefer a jury trial to a bench trial. Even though I’m not a statistician, I can see that at least some of these numbers don’t seem to be consistent. I will leave that discussion for people who are more proficient at math than I am. There’s a reason I am a personal injury lawyer and not an economist.

What I think that data means is that most regular people, with their own case on the line, place their faith in the ability of regular citizens like them to reach a just result. Even if some of the time they think that just result is reached on the basis of emotion and not just the facts and the law.

As an added bonus, 75% saw jury duty as a civic duty and not as a burden, and 81% of those who had served said the experience was a positive one. I think much of the issue of people’s perception of fairness in civil courts stems from a lack of familiarity. I’d like to see the responses on the perceptions of fairness if the data were compiled solely from the responses of those who had participated in a civil case as a party or as a juror. The DRI website has some links to more specific data than the press release contains, but it doesn’t look like the data were sorted that way.

Another appellate win for M&Z!

Yesterday the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland released this opinion reversing the Circuit Court for Baltimore County’s entry of summary judgment against one of our clients. The case involves the application of Insurance Article §19-511 in settling an underinsured motorist claim.

Ron Miller offers some preliminary analysis here. I’m not going to steal Ron’s thunder by getting into the specifics myself. I will say that this opinion doesn’t mean that the case is over, there’s still a long way to go. There may be a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Court of Appeals of Maryland to hear the case, and even if there is no petition or a petition is denied, there are issues to be addressed on remand by the trial court.

But for the moment at least, this is a huge win for our badly injured client. Rod Gaston did a great job setting up the issue in the trial court, and I handled the case on appeal. Our law firm is best known for our trial practice, but we also take a lot of pride in the results we get for our clients on appeal. It matters to us that we are on the front lines of developing the body of law that applies to Maryland personal injury cases because that helps not just our clients, but injury victims all over the state.

How to tell if your jurors are using Twitter from the courthouse

In the last few years, the use of social media has increasingly become an issue in the legal field. We are seeing social media being used as evidence in civil and criminal trials. There have been recent Maryland appellate opinions on how to admit evidence of social media use.

There have also been cases involving social media use by jurors. Here in Baltimore, there was an issue in the sensational Sheila Dixon trial about jurors becoming Facebook “friends” with one another. It has now become commonplace for jurors to be instructed that they are not to discuss their jury service on social media during the trial.

Here’s at least one tip for lawyers concerned about jurors using social media: there is a way to at least try to see if there are jurors or potential jurors using Twitter from the courthouse. Bing (Microsoft’s answer to Google) has a Twitter Maps feature that allows you to type in any address, and it will show you the location of any Tweets that have recently been made in the vicinity, as long as the user has geolocation enabled. Just go to Bing Maps, type in the address, click on Map Apps, and select Twitter. Voila!

For example, I just saw a Tweet made a block from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City asking “Is there snoring allowed in the courtroom?” I bet that’s not somebody you want on your jury, right? I’m not sure exactly how useful of a tool this will be, but it’s certainly interesting to play with.

This is what we have to deal with

Can you believe this? A juror just left for vacation during deliberations. And then when she came back all she got was a $300 fine! This is inexcusable, especially when you consider that during the jury selection process prospective jurors are given several chances to tell the court about anything that would prevent them from serving, like a pre-planned vacation.

She should have been put in jail, at least for a day, and been assigned some community service. Fortunately the case was able to continue without a mistrial. That’s probably why the judge let her stay out of jail.

Sorry, your case is now on standby

Two weeks ago I had a trial scheduled to begin on a Monday.

It was a jury trial that was set for two days, to begin on an agreed date that had been selected 8 months earlier.  My client and his three witnesses all cleared their schedules to make sure they were available.  I had blocked off the time on my calendar, and so did the two lawyers involved on the defense side.

The Friday before the trial was supposed to start, I received a call from the court’s assignment office.  We wouldn’t be able to begin our trial as scheduled, because there was no judge available.  This put us on standby.  That meant that I could be called any time before 1:30 p.m., and I would have an hour to get to court with my client and my witnesses, ready to begin the trial.  If I wasn’t called by 1:30, I was instructed to call back at 3:30 to see if we would be assigned the next morning.  I called my client and all of his witnesses and let them know of this development.  They were not exactly pleased.

Of course, when Monday came, I was not called before the deadline.

So as instructed, I called back at 3:30.  I was told that we were not assigned for the next day, as there was still no judge available.  We would be on standby again, until 12:00 p.m.  If we were not reached by noon, the case would be postponed and a new date selected.  After asking, I learned that it didn’t look good for us to be assigned the next day, and that there were other cases older than mine that were also on standby.  I called my client and his witnesses to let them know what was going on.  Unsurprisingly, they had not gotten any happier about this scheduling problem.

The next day, I sat by the phone until noon hoping we would be called.  Of course, we were not reached.  Again, I waited until 3:30 and called the assignment office again to find out about having the case reset.  They told me that I would get a call the following week, because “the girl who does that is out on vacation until then.”  Again, I relayed all of this information to my client and the witnesses.  At this point, they were equal parts disappointed the case didn’t go forward and annoyed at how the scheduling was done.

Last week, I got a call from the court looking to clear dates on which the trial could be reset.  From a man.  I guess “the girl who does that” is still on vacation.  Now the case is tentatively rescheduled for 6 months from now.  I’m told that we will have a priority if the same thing happens again, but I hope I don’t have to find out.

Please don’t take this as “woe is me.”  I’ve been a lawyer for a while now, and this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.  I know it’s done that way to maximize the efficiency of the court, so that they never have a courtroom sitting empty.  I’m aware that I am part of a system that does not really care about my convenience.  I understand why it is the way it is, and I am used to it.

But my client and his witnesses are not.  They think this system is completely insane.  When I told them what was going on, it struck me that two of them said basically the same thing: “Oh, I guess some judge decided to go on vacation, and they don’t care if we have to sit and wait.”  I can see why they may have thought that, since August is a big vacation month.  I assured them that was probably not the case, that most likely what happened was that some trial went longer than anticipated, or someone had a sudden illness or family emergency.   I hope that’s true, but I don’t really know.  I am assuming the court would only put a case on standby for a good reason, and if there was at least some chance that it would be reached.

Now I have to tell my client and his witnesses that we are set for a new date, and that I hope the same thing won’t happen again.  Like I said, I’m part of the system and I am used to this sort of thing happening.  But for people who are not part of the system, this looks really bad.  From their perspective, they cleared their very busy schedules only to sit by the phone for two days waiting for a call that never came, without ever being given a reason why they were being inconvenienced that way.  Now they are concerned that this will go the same way the next time.  I can’t say that I blame them for being annoyed.  I can absolutely see why the status quo makes no sense at all to an outsider looking in.

I’m sure that the court and its staff do their best to make sure cases are tried on the dates they are set, and that they think the system they have is the best way to handle these kinds of problems under the circumstances.  I will say that if there is a better way, I hope somebody figures it out pretty soon, because the current system really gives the litigants and the witnesses an unfavorable opinion of our court system.  And once that opinion has taken hold, it is very difficult to change.

A Good Trial Quote

Here is a quote I saw recently that I think applies really well to trial work:
“Don’t let a win get to your head or a loss to your heart.”– from Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

Specifically, this is from the song “He Got Game” from the movie soundtrack of the same name. One thing about Chuck D., he always has something interesting to say.

I am one of those people who hates to lose. I can get over a win very easily, but a loss- not so much. So it is pretty easy to tell why this quote caught my attention.

Just Say No To Lawyer Vanity Plates

Although this blog is focused on topics related to personal injury litigation, every once in a while I see something off-topic that I feel compelled to address.

This is one of those times. The ABA Journal has a photo gallery of law-related vanity license plates (HT to Kristi Tousignant of the Daily Record). A sampling: ICNVCTU, ISUE4U, SUYAL8R, SUEYATOO, LITIG8R, the list goes on and on.

With all due respect (and yes, I mean that exactly as Ricky Bobby said it) to those who think these plates are cool, you are wrong. I feel comfortable saying this. My first reaction when I see one of these is “Haha, tool.” I do not believe I am the only person who thinks this. My research reveals that 98.76% of all people think law-related vanity plates are totally not cool. Although I made that up, I have never met a single person who thought vanity plates were cool that did not have one.

I really don’t understand why some lawyers think these are a good idea. I know I don’t want my jury pool seeing me get out of my car in the courthouse parking lot with a plate that says ISUE4U. And I really can’t imagine how any other lawyer with a plaintiffs’ practice would feel differently.

Waiting for an Appellate Opinion?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that appellate litigation is part of my practice here at Miller & Zois. I handle all of the appeals that arise out of our firm’s trial practice, and I also accept appellate referrals from other attorneys.

One of the things that I get asked a lot by our injury clients and by lawyers who don’t regularly handle appeals is “How long will it take before an opinion is issued?” Any appellate lawyers who are reading this know that the only answer to that question is “I don’t know.”

Sometimes opinions are issued quickly, sometimes not. In Maryland’s state appellate courts, the fastest I have gotten an opinion was about 90 days after oral argument. The longest it has taken was nearly 14 months after oral argument. As far as I know, there aren’t any Maryland rules or statutes governing how quickly our appellate courts must resolve cases.

There are two things that have me thinking about this.The first is that I argued an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals on March 9, and I am eagerly awaiting the opinion. Every morning when I come in to the office, I check the Maryland Judiciary website to see if the opinion has been released. Not having the opinion by now doesn’t really surprise me, since the Court of Special Appeals is a very busy court. In 2010 (the most recent year statistics are available) <ahref=”http://www.courts.state.md.us/publications/annualreport/reports/2010/annualreport.pdf”> it received 1,980 new case filings, and resolved 2,140 cases. Considering that the court had 13 judges, including the Chief Judge, that’s a staggering amount of work- 164 cases per judge! I think part of the reason our intermediate appellate court is so busy is that there is a right to an appeal in just about every criminal case, and most people who are convicted tend to exercise that right regardless of the likelihood of success.

The second thing was an article in the Daily Record about a Court of Appeals opinion that came out in the last few days indefinitely suspending a Maryland attorney. The article pointed out that the Court of Appeals’ opinion was released more than four years after the court heard argument in the case. Oral argument took place on June 9, 2008. The opinion was released June 22, 2012. The reason for the delay wasn’t addressed in the opinion. The Court of Appeals is a busy court too, but I can’t imagine a four-year delay is just because of a busy caseload. I have to think that somebody must have messed up somehow.

I still don’t know how long an appeal is supposed to take- I’m just happy that none of mine have taken four years! From now on when I get asked how long it will take to get an opinion on appeal, I will answer that I expect it to take somewhere between 90 days and four years. Surely that will be an acceptable answer. Right?

Waiting for an Appellate Opinion?

If you read this blog regularly, you know that appellate litigation is part of my practice here at Miller & Zois. I handle all of the appeals that arise out of our firm’s trial practice, and I also accept appellate referrals from other attorneys.

One of the things that I get asked a lot by our injury clients and by lawyers who don’t regularly handle appeals is “How long will it take before an opinion is issued?” Any appellate lawyers reading this know that the only answer to that question is “I don’t know.” Sometimes opinions are issued quickly, sometimes not. In Maryland’s state appellate courts, the fastest I have gotten an opinion was about 90 days after oral argument. The longest it has taken was nearly 14 months after oral argument. As far as I know, there aren’t any Maryland rules or statutes governing how quickly our appellate courts must resolve cases.

There are two things that have me thinking about this. The first is that I argued an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals on March 9, and I am eagerly awaiting the opinion. Every morning when I come in to the office, I check the Maryland Judiciary website to see if the opinion has been released. Not having the opinion by now doesn’t really surprise me, since the Court of Special Appeals is a very busy court. In 2010 (the most recent year statistics are available) it received 1,980 new case filings, and resolved 2,140 cases. Considering that the court had 13 judges, including the Chief Judge, that’s a staggering amount of work- 164 cases per judge! I think part of the reason our intermediate appellate court is so busy is that there is a right to an appeal in just about every criminal case, and most people who are convicted tend to exercise that right regardless of the chance of success.

The second thing was an article in the Daily Record about a Court of Appeals opinion that came out in the last few days indefinitely suspending a Maryland attorney. The article pointed out that the Court of Appeals’ opinion was released more than four years after the court heard argument in the case. Oral argument took place on June 9, 2008. The opinion was released June 22, 2012. The reason for the delay wasn’t addressed in the opinion. The Court of Appeals is a busy court too, but I can’t imagine a four-year delay is just because of a busy caseload. I have to think that somebody must have messed up somehow.

I still don’t know how long an appeal is supposed to take- I’m just happy that none of mine have taken four years! From now on when I get asked how long it will take to get an opinion on appeal, I will answer that I expect it to take somewhere between 90 days and four years. Surely that will be an acceptable answer. Right?

Prince George’s County Accident Cases

Certainly, given their preference, plaintiffs’ lawyer will choice PG County or Baltimore City as the venue for almost any Maryland accident case.

If I can’t be in Baltimore, I want to be in P.G County if I have a Maryland traffic accident case.