SC Law Blog

Welcome to the South Carolina Law Blog where there is open discussion through feedback on hot legal topics in this state. Feel free to comment and/or suggest a topic to address.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Fast Track Jury Trial Process for SC

Chief Justice Jean Toal of the South Carolina Supreme Court has issued an administrative order authorizing the Fast Track jury trial process.  This is new to South Carolina in an attempt to benefit the public and alleviate the strain on the limited judicial resources available.

The Fast Track process is a voluntary, binding jury trial before a smaller jury panel and a Special Hearing Officer which is mutually selected by the parties.  With this process comes a new set of rules and procedures by which this process is to be governed.  In summary they are as follow:

  1. Consent of Parties - Parties have to agree to this process.
  2. Stipulation - The parties must file a Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer. High/low parameters may be stipulated (more on this in #13).
  3. No Right to Appeal and Costs - Parties must agree to waive a right to appeal, absent allegations of fraud.  The Orders need not be detailed in the legal traditional sense and judgments are not entered by the Clerk of Court except upon motion to the Circuit Court and a showing that the jury's verdict has not been satisfied.
  4. Mediation and Arbitration - In this process, mediation and arbitration is not required.
  5. Scheduling - Once parties submit to this process, their case is removed from the regular court docket and they are allotted time after regularly scheduled courtroom business has been conducted.
  6. Pre-trial Submissions
    1. Documentary Evidence - All documentary evidence to be offered must disclosed to the other side not less than 30 days before scheduled trial.
    2. Petrial Conference - No later than 10 days before trial, a pretrial conference is to be held.  Objections to any documentation must be made or waived thereafter and a list of witnesses must be exchanged.
  7. Record - No court reporters and thus no trial transcript unless either party provides such a service.
  8. Existing Offer and Demand - The parties may stipulate that the pre-trial offer and demand remain unaltered through the Fast Track jury trial.  If the parties enter into this stipulation, at any time during a trial and up until a verdict is announced either party may elect to accept the last settlement proposal.
  9. Jury Selection - No more than 6 jurors. Parties may select or direct Special Hearing Officer to do so.
  10. Time Limits - Encouragement of less witnesses and no longer than 1 day long.
  11. Rules of Evidence - Parties may agree to modify the rules of evidence to expedite the process as follows:
    1. Parties may agree to the admissibility of video or written depositions, affidavits, and ex-parte (one sided) depositions
    2. Parties can agree to the admissibility without authentication and other technical requirements of medical records and the like.
    3. Lost wages may be proven by documentation from Plaintiff's employer.  Future lost earnings shall only be proven by expert testimony.
    4. Live expert witnesses require notice to all parties.
    5. Pretrial conference shall be proper place to prevent or redact evidence.
    6. Parties shall have subpoena power.
  12. Case Presentation
    1. Special Hearing Officer shall identify himself/herself to the jury.
    2. Upon agreement, presentations may be made to the jury and exchanged 10 days prior to trial.
    3. Parties encouraged to present no more than 3 witnesses
    4. Procedure may be stipulated to upon approval of the Special Hearing Officer.
  13. Jury Verdict - Verdict is binding subject to any high/low stipulated agreement.
  14. Post-Trial Motions - Parties may waive these motions and stipulate that regular procedures surrounding these motions be set aside.
  15. Inconsistent Verdicts - Special Hearing Officer may recharge the jury to correct any inconsistencies.
  16. Incapacitated Person or Minor - Circuit Court must approve any high/low parameters prior to trial in the same manner a settlement for such persons is approved in Circuit Court.
  17. Qualifications of the Special Hearing Officer - By mutual consent of the parties, must be in good standing with the bar, completed trial experience under Rule 403 of SCACR.  Parties shall determine the compensation of the attorney acting as Special Hearing Officer.
  18. Mandatory Charge of the Fast Track Jurors - Circuit Court Judge who qualifies jurors selected for the Fast Track process shall charge the jurors about the nature and the identity and authority of the Special Hearing Officer.
This is a brand new process and a fusion of magistrates court and mediation/arbitration.  Hopefully this will alleviate the strain on the Judicial resources but as an elective process, it will be interesting to see how much this is utilized.  Client expectations and ethical considerations will be a huge concern for attorneys implementing this process.  Good Luck Pioneers.

For a detailed version of the new rules, procedures and forms follow this link.

No comments:

Post a Comment