Abraham Lincoln liked jury trials just fine.

Last February, Blawgletter reported a steep decline in Texas state court jury trials in civil cases.  In 1996, district court juries rendered 2,971 verdicts but only 1,428 during 2006 — a drop of 52 percent.  District judges also directed verdicts 253 times in 1996 but 473 times in 2006 — an increase of 87 percent.

We wondered whether the trend continued into 2007.  Today we disclose the results.

According to The Texas Office of Court Administration, juries decided 1,643 district court cases in 2007, and district judges directed verdicts in 384.  The performance improved the decline in jury verdicts to less than 45 percent from 1996 and the jump in directed verdicts to below 52 percent.

Will the trends towards more jury trials and fewer directed verdicts continue in 2008?  The statistics through April 2008 give good news and bad.  The 459 jury verdicts in the first four months translate into 1,377 for the full year — raising the drop-off from 1996 to 53.6 percent — but the directed verdicts so far (103) equal 309 for all of 2008 — a rise of only 22 percent versus 1996.

Note that a fall-off in caseloads cannot account for the trend.  In 1996, pending district court cases (including criminal matters) totaled a bit more than 700,000.  By 2006, the number had grown to more than 900,000 and in 2007 to about 950,000.  We should have more jury trials now rather than fewer.

The overall results suggest that trial by jury in civil cases remains under pressure if not in danger of extinction.

Section 12 of the Texas Constitution provides that "[t]he right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.  The Legislature shall pass such laws as may be needed to regulate the same, and to maintain its purity and efficiency." 

What happened?

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