On July 1, 2012, Supreme Court Rule 243 will go into effect. This addition
to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules will permit jurors in civil cases
to ask questions of witnesses. While the practice was never specifically
prohibited, and some judges took the liberty of allowing jurors to ask
questions when counsel for both parties consented, the imposition of the
rule may have a substantial effect on the way civil trials proceed.
The rule works like this: during trial, once a witness has been questioned
by both parties, a judge can decide whether to allow jurors to submit
written questions to be asked of that particular witness. If the judge
determines that juror follow-up questions are appropriate, then he will
receive the written questions and they will be marked as exhibits and
made a part of the record. Jurors will not be required to submit questions,
but, if they choose to do so, they can submit multiple written questions.
Next, outside the presence of the jury, the judge will share the questions
with counsel for both parties and allow the attorneys to object to the
admission of certain questions. Then, the judge will rule on whether the
question should be admitted, stricken or modified in some way.
Questions that are deemed admissible will be read to the witness by the
court. The court will instruct the witness to limit her answers to the
exact question posed. Counsel for both parties will be permitted the opportunity
to ask follow-up questions of the witness.
The new rule has been met with mixed sentiment. Some, such as the Illinois
Trial Lawyers Association, hail the rule as innovative and believe that
it will lead to better juror comprehension and will empower jurors by
providing them with a voice during the trial proceedings. Similarly, Chief
Justice Thomas Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court believes the rule
will lead to increased juror comprehension of and attention to the evidence.
Some warn that the rule may lead to unwanted speculation by jurors into
areas that were specifically prohibited during motions
in limine due to their irrelevant or prejudicial effect on the legal issues before the jury.
Joseph W. Balesteri, a partner at Power Rogers & Smith, who concentrates
his practice in the area of
medical negligence, commented: “The most important people in a trial, the jurors, should
be allowed to ask questions when the judge finds it appropriate, especially
in a complex case.” Todd A. Smith, named partner at Power Rogers
& Smith, echoed these sentiments, stating: “Allowing jurors
to ask questions of witnesses encourages juror engagement and provides
lawyers with useful insight to ensure jurors understand the issues in
the case. We look forward to the cautious implementation of the rule.”