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The Vanishing Jury Trial and the Texas Supreme Court

It’s no secret that jury trials are disappearing. In fact, Texas Supreme Court justice Nathan Hecht had a cover article in a recent Texas Bar Journal article addressing the problem. In the article Hecht provided his own hypotheses about the cause of the problem. But the truth is, Hecht and his brethren at the Supreme Court are the cause of the problem as they continually disregard jury verdicts and substitute their own versions of the facts to render opinions in cases.

One recent case was presented to the court in Coca Cola Company v. Harmar Bottling Company. In that case, twelve jurors and a later reviewing appellate court all found that enough evidence was presented to support the trial court’s verdict. Not surprising, the Supreme Court disagreed. Not only did they disagree with the jury, but they barely took the time in the opinion to explain why.

Baylor law school professor Gerald Powell has apparently seen enough. Professor Powell, on his own time and at his own expense, filed an amicus brief with the Court “because of his interest in the preservation of the right to trial by jury.” Professor Powell’s brilliant brief addresses the appellate courts’ role in the disappearing jury trial and specifically rebuts the Supreme Court’s decision in Harmar. Professor Powell’s brief concludes:

When appellate courts commandeer the jury’s role as fact-finder, the right to trial by jury is shaken….Every time a court takes away a jury verdict, the foundation shakes and trembles.

If appellate courts so freely reverse jury verdicts, then there is little chance that trial by jury can long endure so unstable a foundation. Each tremor is an alarm to us all — it is a siren warning of the widening chasm ahead.

I urge everyone interested in civil justice issues to reach Professor Powell’s amicus.

Additionally, for US District Judge Sam Sparks’ thoughts on the same issue, click here.

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