Jury Trials Declining In Texas

Trial attorneys are probably aware of a general decline in the number of cases going to trial in Texas.
Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has warned a group of lawyers and federal judges that civil jury trials are headed for extinction.
Judge Higginbotham has said “There are certain elites in this country who don’t trust juries.” And “The future of our jury system is very much in danger.”
Most people kind of laugh at this. If you ask the average person, they would opine that there are too many lawyers and trials.
Judge Higginbotham made the above statements over 16 years ago and what he said appears to be coming to true. Civil jury trials have plummeted to historic 40 year lows. This is truly amazing in light of the increase in population and new laws that have been enacted during that time.
In 2012, there were 135 civil jury trials in the federal courts in Texas — down from 360 in 1997.
The state courts have witnessed a similar decline. Last year, there were fewer than 1,200 civil jury trials in state district courts in Texas. This is a 1 percent decline from 2011 and down nearly 300% from 1997, when there were 3,369 jury trials.
While plaintiff’s lawyers have been complaining for years, even prominent judges and lawyers representing large businesses have started sounding the alarm.
Judge Higginbotham stated, “My fear is that we are returning to the French legal system prior to the French Revolution when trials did not exist and cases were all done on paper.” “The reduction in jury trials isn’t about the empty courthouse — it is about the alienation of the people from the process. The jury system is about governance.”
Legal experts agree.
One prominent Dallas attorney said, “There’s this distrust of juries, which I truly don’t understand. Nobody works harder or feels more deeply about dispensing justice than 12 of our fellow citizens.” He says too many lawyers counsel their clients to avoid juries because they are too risky. But he also says “… that’s just not true.”
Dan Worthington, president of the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, an organization comprised of lawyers who represent insurance companies, manufacturers and other businesses in the state, says the decline in jury trials is a profoundly negative trend for individuals and businesses.
Here is a couple of examples of the decline in jury trials.
In the Federal Courts – For the Northern District the number of civil jury trials has declined from 77 in 1997 to 28 in 2012.
Southern District – 135 in 1997 to 56 in 2012.
Eastern District – 71 in 1997 to 23 in 2012.
Western District – 77 in 1997 to 28 in 2012.
It is similar for State District Courts:
In Dallas County the numbers went from 268 in 1997 to 176 in 2012.
Harris County went from 611 in 1997 to 240 in 2012.
Tarrant County went from 177 in 1997 to 103 in 2012.
Travis County went from 78 in 1997 to 15 in 2012.
Again, these numbers are staggering considering the increase in population and the enactment of more laws.
Besides risk, it appears the biggest factor is the high cost of litigation.
To address the cost issue, the Texas Supreme Court implemented its new “expedited trial” rules for cases where $100,000 or less is in dispute. These new rules limit discovery and push cases to trial quicker.
It will be interesting to see if things change.