September 10, 2014
By Allison K. Gurley
In August 2014, Governor Patrick signed a bill allowing attorney voir dire in Massachusetts. The bill states that “the court shall permit, upon the request of any party’s attorney or a self-represented party, the party’s attorney or self-represented party to conduct an oral examination of the prospective jurors at the discretion of the court.” Moreover, the “court may impose reasonable limitations upon the questions allowed during such examination, including, but not limited to requiring pre-approval of the questions.” House Bill 4123 “The Trial Court Bill.”
It remains to be seen how individual judges will define ‘reasonable limits’ which may lead to appealable issues. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has since formed a committee to examine the voir dire process and to make recommendations for how best to implement the new legislation.
The new law also states that in “civil actions in the superior court, parties, through their counsel, may suggest a specific monetary amount for damages at trial.” This represents a significant change in Massachusetts trial practice in the superior court. Prior to the new law, attorneys were not allowed to argue to the jury a particular sum for damages. The implementation of the law in practice remains to be seen but will be an important consideration for trial counsel going forward.