Lieff Cabraser partner Mark P. Chalos is a featured guest columnist in a recent issue of the Tennessean, where he’s penned a striking opinion piece on the importance of fair trials. Read the full article below.
Why fair trials are important to the American legal system
This time of impeachment makes for a great opportunity to review the state of the jury trial in the U.S. The results may surprise you.
With President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial having officially begun, there has been a lot of shouting on cable news and social media about trials.
There have been arguments about the role of jurors, trial witnesses and due process.
All of those issues are important – whether we are talking about potentially removing a president, determining the guilt of someone in our community accused of a violent crime or deciding whether a billion-dollar corporation should be held accountable for harm it caused.
Fair trials protect our rights
Aside from winning arguments at holiday gatherings with our relatives who have wacky political views, why do trials matter?
Fair trials protect all of our rights as citizens.
Our Founders recognized this when they enshrined the right to a jury trial in the Bill of Rights as the Seventh Amendment. They recognized that our right to a jury trial protects all of our other constitutional rights.
Many state constitutions, including Tennessee’s Constitution, include the right to a jury trial as a fundamental right.
In short, we have a right to our day in court.
But essential to any fair jury trial are (at least) three elements.
- Jurors must listen to witnesses and review evidence with an open and impartial mind;
- The rules of the trial must be fair to all sides and not dictate a pre-determined outcome; and
- Judges must oversee the trial in an even-handed way.
These notions aren’t new. Deuteronomy 16:19 commands, “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, in his recently released 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, reminded his judicial colleagues, “But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable. We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch.”
A perversion of justice
When it comes to civil lawsuits, powerful special interests have fought hard to gut our right to a fair jury trial. The special interests and their politician friends have passed laws that take away the right of jurors to hold wrongdoers accountable for the full harm they cause. They call these unconstitutional laws “damages caps.”
These special interests have also tried to close the courthouse doors by sneaking language into the fine print that takes away the right to a fair jury trial. Instead, they want to force American consumers who have been ripped off into secret arbitration proceedings.
In those secret arbitration proceedings, there are no juries. The accused wrongdoers decide what rules will apply and they decide who the “judges” will be. And guess who usually wins those arbitrations? Spoiler: the accused wrongdoers almost always win. The billion-dollar special interests are rigging the system.
So, as we listen to all the “experts” on television and social media tell us what they think about trials, let’s remember why trials matter:
Fair trials, with impartial jurors, a level playing field and even-handed judges, make America great.
We should demand nothing less.
About Mark Chalos
The managing partner of Lieff Cabraser’s Nashville office, Mark Chalos represents individuals who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries and families whose loved ones died due to the negligence or misconduct of others. Mark represents counties and cities across the U.S. as well as Native American tribes and health organizations in the national opioids litigation. He is serving as part of the national case leadership in these cases, including preparing bellwether cases for trial.
Through jury trials, Chalos has held wrong-doers accountable, including representing 32 school children who were videotaped undressing in their school locker room ($1.28 million jury verdict) and a young woman who suffered a severe brain injury in a car wreck (nearly $4 million jury verdict). He also obtained an $8 million arbitration award on behalf of a business client, and overall has obtained millions of dollars in settlements for families who have been harmed by wrongful conduct.