Until recently, Massachusetts was one of few states nationwide that did not permit attorneys to conduct voir dire, i.e., the questioning of prospective jurors in court prior to trial. Only judges were permitted to question prospective jurors. A new law, signed by the governor in August 2014 and effective February 2015, will permit both judges and lawyers, upon request, to conduct voir dire, subject to “reasonable limitations” the court may impose.
Questions have arisen as to how jury voir dire will actually be conducted, given the latitude now allowed by the statute. For example, will attorneys question potential jurors individually at sidebar or as a group in open court; will the judge, as in some states, leave the court room when attorneys conduct voir dire? In response, the state Supreme Judicial Court has formed a committee to develop procedures for implementing the new statute.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys, concerned about public suspicion that many lawsuits are often frivolous or unfounded, have lobbied for this change for some years. Both plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys hope that the new process will provide trial counsel and the judge with more information about potential jurors and thereby reduce instances of juror bias for or against respective parties. One thing is probable, however: the expanded jury selection process will require an increased jury pool (more potential jurors), take more preparation and court room time and increase trial costs. These factors may well have an impact on evaluating whether to settle or try a case, and may also result in even greater use of mediation or arbitration as a more cost effective method of resolving a case.
Most importantly, there now is even more reason that experienced trial counsel like Harris & Associates, P.C. represent your interests in and out of the court room.