The Indiana court system held 1,338 jury trials during 2012, continuing what court officials described as a “significant decline” across the state.
A statistical profile of the state’s judiciary was released Monday by the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration. These reports are published annually and provide details about the court operations at the county and appellate levels.
During calendar year 2012, 1.6 million new cases were filed in Indiana trial courts. Cities, towns, townships, counties and the state spent $386 million to operate the court and generated $205 million in revenue from filing fees, court costs, user fees and fines.
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson pointed to the change in the number of jury trials, particularly on the civil side, and said that is a concern “because the jury trial is the lifeblood of the American judicial system.”
The 2012 total represents more than 1,000 fewer jury trials than was held just seven years ago. Jury trials peaked in 2005 at 2,450 and have been on a downward trend since, bottoming out at 1,298 in 2011.
Dickson attributed the decline, in part, to the growth of mediation and more parties working together to resolve their differences instead of having a court impose a solution.
“It’s a concern only in the sense that we don’t want to see jury trials disappear because jury trials are where the skills of lawyers are honed and developed and carried on,” the chief justice said. “…It’s a wonderful system but the reality is that many people, because of the element of risk involved, are seeing the wisdom of trying to work out (their disputes).”
However, the statistics also show a decrease in the number of cases referred to alternative dispute resolution. In 2010, a high of 7,602 cases were referred while two years later in 2012 the total had shrunk to 5,951 cases.
Mirroring the drop in jury trials is the fall in the number of new cases filed. The 2012 figure of 1.6 million is the lowest number of cases filed in the past decade. The peak came just as the Great Recession started in 2008 with 2 million new cases filed.
Court officials were at a loss to pinpoint the reason for the decline. However, they did point to the plunge in infraction cases being filed, sinking from the high of 930,004 in 2008 to 662,213 in 2012.
In 2012, 307,612 cases included pro se litigants. Lilia Judson, executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration, noted the accuracy of that number is in question because of the difficulty of culling the information from counties that use a case management system other than Odyssey. If anything, she said, the number of pro se litigants is underreported.
Dickson said the driver behind more people going into court without a lawyer is difficult to determine and purely anecdotal, but “the sound assumption” is the economy.
“But, of course, it is a Constitutional right for the citizen to use the court without anybody representing them,” Dickson said. “…Some do it voluntarily as a matter of choice. I think most do it either because they don’t have the resources to get a lawyer or they don’t know how to go about it. And they don’t know how to get one of the free lawyers that may be available. We hope to improve that.”
Other highlights in 2012 include:
• Murder case filings ballooned 21.8 percent to 235
• Mortgage foreclosure case filings rose 11.9 percent to 33,876
• Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases increased 6.2 percent to 11,325
• Case filings for termination of parental rights, Class A felony and juvenile delinquency all declined.
Read more about the Indiana Supreme Court report in the Nov. 6 issue of Indiana Lawyer.