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The Illinois Supreme Court Approves Jurors Asking Questions in Civil Trials. A New Can of Worms

Jurors in civil trials will be allowed to ask questions of witnesses under a new rule approved by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The change, which will go into effect July 1, 2012 brings Illinois in line with more than half of all the states and all of the federal circuits.

Although there is no rule barring judges from permitting the practice, the change removes any doubt that the high court supports the concept of permitting jurors to submit written questions for witnesses while they are on the stand.

"Based on the comments of those who have used or seen the procedure at trials, such a rule enhances juror engagement, juror comprehension and attention to the proceeding and gives jurors a better appreciation for our system of justice," Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said in a prepared statement.

The court envisions jurors submitting written questions at the conclusion of questioning by attorneys. The judge will read the questions to the attorneys outside of the presence of the jury, giving the lawyers a chance to object. The judge could then decide whether to go forward with all, some or none of the questions.

"The rule is written so that its implementation rests with the discretion of the trial judge and with safeguards so that the testimony it elicits complies with the rules of evidence," Kilbride said.

But, he said it could help keep jurors' minds from wandering during a trial.

"The parameters set forth in the rule are designed to maintain neutrality while at the same time engaging the interest of jurors in focusing on and following the testimony, and giving trial counsel the ability to elicit evidence responsive to the questions raised," Simon said in a prepared statement.

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