By John DiMotto
It is not just lawyers who get ready for an upcoming jury trial. Judges do the same. They must if they are to do their job.
Every case has interesting "turns and twists." Unique evidentiary issues arise throughout the trial, issues that can be anticipated by a judge who carefully analyzes the file before trial. Failure to do so may result in the judge needing to send the jury to the jury room while he/she hears arguments on the issue from the lawyers and then, sometimes, the judge needs to do some quick research on the issue. Lack of anticipation and preparation does a disservice to the lawyers, parties and jury.
The preparation for a trial by the judge encompasses attention to jury instructions and special verdict form concerns. Every case is different and the law governing each case is different. Judges must put together jury instructions that are tailored to the case. Many people are of the opinion that there are standard jury instructions that judges use and that judges don't have to spend much time on them. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are many standard "boilerplate" instructions, the critical instructions must be tailored to the evidence and the issues in the specific case being tried. If a judge works on the jury instructions before trial not only will the judge be on top of the case, but the judge can move the case along efficiently and, hopefully, error free.
In the final analysis, good judicial preparation can accomplish three things: efficient use of court time; respect for the lawyers, litigants and the jury; an error free trial that will bring finality to the case.