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Juries or Bench Trials in Business Litigation? A Critical Decision

Under most circumstances involving business litigation disputes, the decision whether to ask for a jury, or alternatively to simply have a Judge decide the case, is an important one.  There is never a cut-and-dried answer as to which approach is best.  Buffington Law Firm's business litigation attorneys have tried many business litigation cases both with juries and as court or "bench" trials, i.e. trials decided solely by a Judge.

While there are certain types of business disputes whereby a jury is not authorized, in the overwhelming majority of situations either side has the right to demand a jury.  Buffington Law Firm takes the position that because the right to a jury constitutes, in essence, a civil right of the client, we always confer with the client and ultimately allow the client to make the decision as to whether to ask for a jury.  Naturally, our clients invariably ask for our advice on this matter and I can truly say that in my entire legal experience there has never been a time where the client and our Firm did not reach an agreement on this important decision.

Court Trial and Jury Trial Distinguished.

In a jury trial, the Judge is the finder of law, but the jury is the finder of fact.  Thus, the Judge will issue jury instructions in which the Judge explains and instructs the jury on the law applicable to the case.  But the jury will make findings of fact, such as what the intent of one or more persons was, whether certain alleged facts occurred, which witnesses to believe, etc.

In a Court trial the Judge sits as finder of law and fact.  The Judge will decide what evidence to believe, and then apply the law in order to derive the verdict.

Pros and Cons of Juries versus Court Trials.

Entire books have been written about the advantages and disadvantages of jury trials versus Court trials.  Here are some of the leading considerations:

Pros for a Jury trial.

1.  There is a risk that the Judge may favor one side or otherwise have bias.  While this risk exists with a jury as well, when a Judge tries the case it is one person's bias to be concerned with.  With a jury, even if one or two jurors are biased, the bias can be diluted by the other unbiased jurors and a fair outcome can still be obtained.  With a Court trial, all of one's eggs are in the single proverbial basket.

2.  The jury system, by and large, is "tried and true."  Juries go back to Roman times and before.  There is a reason why this system has endured -- it usually works.  Judges are not ordinary people.  In some controversies it is a good decision to allow the case to be decided by "a jury of one's peers."

3.  Juries usually try to do the right thing.

Pros for a Judge trial.

1.  Speed and Efficiency.  It is costly to have counsel draft, fight over, and agree on jury instructions.  With a Court trial, there is no need for instructions as regards the law -- the Judge is presumed to (and almost always does) know the law.  Further, Jury selection usually adds half a day or more to a trial, and adds time later in the trial as well.

2.  Knowledgeability.  Especially for complex business disputes, a Judge will likely have a better understanding of the disputed transactions than will a jury.  Juries sometimes struggle with complex business transactions.

3.  Judges usually try to do the right thing.

If you have a business litigation, real estate, or trust dispute, give Buffington Law Firm a call to arrange a free legal consultation directly with one of our experienced business dispute attorneys.  There is never any charge or obligations and in this meeting we can discuss your rights in a completely confidential setting.

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