Indiana Judges Association: Instructions in plain language a natural next step

John Pera
August 4, 2010
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IJA-Pera-JohnThe Judicial Administration Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana began conducting research on jury reform in 1997. At approximately the same time, the Indiana Supreme Court organized citizens, attorneys, and judges to form the Citizens Commission for the Future of Indiana Courts. The commission obtained grant funding to study the jury system and formed the Juries for the 21st Century Committee to collect data and information on jury procedures.

The recommendations of both the Judicial Administration Committee and the Citizens Commission resulted in new jury rules for Indiana effective Jan. 1, 2003, covering jury pool formation, selection, and management. The objectives of the new rules were to promote consistency in jury procedures throughout the state, to improve efficiency within the jury system, to require all qualified citizens to serve with few exceptions, to promote diversity in the jury pool and the trial jury, and to assist jurors in understanding the issues, evidence, and trial process.

To help local courts implement these new rules, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard established the Jury Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana in 2002. The Jury Committee developed a standard orientation program for jurors pursuant to the new rules and it continues to respond to questions from local courts and to recommend improvements to the jury system. In 2003, the Jury Committee worked with a local production company to produce a standard jury orientation video entitled “Indiana Jury Service: Duty, Honor, Privilege,” which is available to all Indiana courts at no cost and is also available to the public on the Internet at This video was updated in 2008.

The Jury Committee also worked in partnership with judicial and executive branch agencies on the state’s Jury Pool Project, which provides to local courts a jury master list containing information from both the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and state Department of Revenue. The first list was released in the fall of 2005, and the project team continues to improve the list based on local court feedback. This new master list is more inclusive of Indiana’s citizens than ever before and has decreased the amount of undeliverable mail sent to prospective jurors. In 2006, the Indiana Supreme Court received a Special Merit Citation from the American Judicature Society and the Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s Sigmund Beck Award for this project.

After these incredible improvements in the ways that citizens are called to be jurors and their management when they get to the courthouse, the next logical step was to improve the information given to juries about the specifics of the trials in which they participate – the jury instructions.

The responsibility for this falls under the purview of the Indiana Judges Association Instructions Committee. Beginning in the fall of 2008, the Civil Instructions Committee – one Court of Appeals judge and 12 trial court judges from all over the state comprise the committee – reviewed research about legal language and juror comprehension, learning that disorganized and jargon-heavy instructions do an utterly inadequate job of informing jurors of what they are to do. I vividly recall having spoken with a very intelligent, college-educated presiding juror in a civil case, who described the jury instructions as “convoluted” and at times “incomprehensible.” Many others no doubt have had similar exchanges with those who serve on our juries. It was apparent that the language of the law, common and comfortable for lawyers and judges, was not getting the job done when the same language was used to communicate with lay persons upon whom we place the responsibility to fairly decide the outcome of civil lawsuits.

The product of these efforts, spanning nearly two years of countless hours of work, is the forthcoming publication of the new Indiana Model Civil Jury Instructions, written in plain English, to be published in the coming weeks by Lexis. Plain English involves using the simplest, most straightforward way to express an idea to our juries to increase comprehension, compliance, and satisfaction with the jury process.

With the help of Elizabeth Francis, PhD., a University of Nevada English professor and faculty member at the National Judicial College in Reno, the committee focused on clearly identifying the parties, omitting unnecessary words, using active voice and understandable vocabulary, keeping sentences short, and organizing ideas in a logical sequence. The committee attempted, however, to maintain the use of irreducible words (such as “liable”) and to avoid false economy by fully explaining important ideas, rather than giving them short shrift. Some new instructions use examples or illustrations to explain especially difficult concepts.

The Indiana Model Civil Jury Instructions will be introduced to the judiciary at the Judicial Conference of Indiana Annual Meeting in September. To introduce members of the bar to them, the Indiana Judges Association will sponsor seven CLE-approved, three-hour seminars during October at Merrillville, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville, Jeffersonville, Plainfield, and Indianapolis. Each seminar will be presented by four Civil Instruction Committee members. We hope members of the bar will take advantage of the seminars to learn about this important development in Indiana law. Online registration begins Aug. 16 at•


The Hon. John R. Pera is chief judge of the Lake Superior Court, a judge in the Civil Division, chair the Civil Instructions Committee and secretary-treasurer of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.


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  1. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."