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South Carolina
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2013-03-07-01

The Supreme Court of South Carolina

Re: Fast Track Jury Trials

Appellate Case No.:  2013-000389


ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER



Pursuant to the provisions of Article V, § 4 of the South Carolina Constitution, I find that a Fast Track jury trial process has been used on an ad hoc basis in South Carolina and has proven to be successful.  Allowing implementation statewide will be beneficial to the public and aid in the efficient use of limited judicial resources.

I adopt the attached procedures and form for the voluntary use of the Fast Track jury trial process statewide.  The Fast Track jury trial process may be implemented by the Chief Administrative Judge.  This order is effective upon the date of my signature.  

  s/Jean Hoefer Toal
Chief Justice of South Carolina

March 7, 2013
Columbia, South Carolina


RULES AND PROCEDURES FOR THE FAST TRACK JURY TRIAL PROCESS

Nature of the Binding Fast Track Jury Trial:  A Fast Track jury trial is a voluntary, binding jury trial, before a reduced jury panel and a mutually selected Special Hearing Officer.  The mode and method of presentation of evidence can be traditional or the parties may agree on procedures to streamline the process, often in a manner similar to what is done in arbitrations.  In the absence of agreement of counsel, adopted in the Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer, the process and rules that follow shall apply:

1. Consent of Parties:  The parties to the Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer represent that they have the authority of their respective clients and/or insurance carriers to enter into the agreement.  This agreement shall be irrevocably binding upon the parties absent fraud.

2. Stipulation:  If the parties agree to a Fast Track jury trial, the parties shall file a Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer.  Additionally, a written stipulation may be signed by the attorneys reciting any high/low parameters.  The high/low parameters of a Fast Track jury trial, if any, shall not be disclosed to the jury.

3. No Right to Appeal and Costs:  The parties further agree to waive the right to appeal from the determination of this matter, absent allegations of fraud.  Written Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law shall not be required.  Following the jury verdict, the Clerk of Court shall not enter judgment except upon motion to the Circuit Court and a showing that the jury's verdict has not been satisfied.  The parties agree to waive costs and disbursements.

4. Mediation and Arbitration:  Where the parties consent to a Fast Track jury trial, the case is exempt from mandatory mediation and/or arbitration.

5. Scheduling:  Fast Track jury trials are scheduled with the Clerk of Court in the county where the case is filed.  The parties shall provide the Clerk of Court with a filed copy of the Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer.  The case shall be removed from the docket and a mutually convenient trial date shall be set.  Fast Track jury trials shall not have any priority over any regularly scheduled courtroom proceeding or courtroom staff.  The Clerk of Court shall allocate such space or staff as may be available and suitable only after all of the needs of regularly scheduled courtroom business are met.

6. Pretrial Submissions

a. Documentary Evidence.  Any party intending to offer documentary evidence at trial, including, but not limited to medical bills, medical records, and lost income records, shall serve copies of such documentary evidence upon all parties not less than thirty (30) days before the scheduled trial, unless that period is modified by the order setting the case for a Fast Track jury trial. 

b. Pretrial Conference.  No later than ten (10) days before trial, unless that period is modified by the order setting the case for a Fast Track jury trial, the Special Hearing Officer assigned to the case shall conduct a pretrial conference, at which time objections to any documentary evidence previously submitted shall be determined and witness lists shall be exchanged.  If there are no objections at the time of the hearing, counsel shall so stipulate in writing.  Documentary evidence that is not served at the pretrial hearing is not admissible absent the consent of all parties.

7. Record:  A Fast Track jury trial will not be recorded by an Official Judicial Department court reporter.  If either party desires to have a transcript of the proceeding, it shall be at that party's expense.

8. Existing Offer and Demand:  The parties may stipulate in writing that the pre-trial offer and demand remain unaltered through the Fast Track jury trial.  If the parties enter into this stipulation, either party may elect to accept the last settlement proposal of the opponent at any time before the verdict is announced by the jury. 

9. Jury Selection:  Fast Track juries shall consist of no more than six (6) jurors, selected from a venire called for a regular term of court.  The jurors shall serve only during regular court hours during the term of court for which the Fast Track jury trial is called.  The Court shall allow each side two (2) peremptory challenges.  Jurors may be selected for a Fast Track jury trial only to the extent that the presiding Circuit Court Judge finds that such selection will not impede jury trials for either the Court of Common Pleas or Court of General Sessions.  The Circuit Court Judge may select the jury or direct that the Special Hearing Officer select the jury.

10. Time Limits:  The parties are encouraged to expedite the trial process by limiting the number of live witnesses.  Generally, a Fast Track jury trial should not last longer than one (1) day. 

11. Rules of Evidence:  The parties may offer such evidence as is relevant and material to the dispute.  The parties may, in the Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer, agree to modify the rules of evidence.  The parties are encouraged to stipulate to modes and methods of presentation that will expedite the process, such as the following:

a. The parties may agree to the admissibility of video or written depositions, affidavits, and if appropriate, ex parte depositions.

b. The parties can agree to the admissibility, without the usual requirements of authentication and other technical requirements, of medical records, including but not limited to hospital records, ambulance records, medical records and/or reports from plaintiff's health care providers, diagnostic test results including but not limited to X-rays, MRI, CT scan, and EMT reports, or any other graphic, numerical, symbolic, or pictorial representation of medical or diagnostic procedures or tests.

c. Past lost income may be proven by the submission of documentary evidence from the plaintiff's employer, including, but not limited to, pay stubs, tax returns, W-2 and/or 1099 forms, or lost wage statements.  Any claim for future lost earnings premised upon lost opportunity, promotion, career advancement, or similar theory shall only be proven by expert testimony or the report of any expert previously exchanged pursuant to these rules.

d. In the event a party intends to call a live expert witness, medical, or otherwise, that party shall provide written notice to all parties of such witness and provide an opportunity for the expert to be deposed.

e. Pretrial evidentiary issues such as motions in limine and redaction of documentary evidence shall be determined in conformance with the applicable rules of evidence or the agreement of the parties by the Special Hearing Officer at the pretrial conference.

f. The parties shall have the right to issue subpoenas to secure the attendance of witnesses or the production of documents as may be requested by any party.

12. Case Presentation:

a. The Special Hearing Officer shall identify himself or herself to the Fast Track jury as a Special Hearing Officer appointed by the court for the purpose of presiding over the Fast Track jury trial.

b. Upon agreement, counsel may present summaries, and may use photographs, diagrams, PowerPoint presentations, overhead projectors, individual notebooks of exhibits for submission to the jurors, or any other innovative method of presentation.  Anything that is to be submitted to the jury as part of the presentation of the case must be exchanged ten (10) days in advance of trial, unless the parties consent.  Counsel are encouraged to stipulate to factual and evidentiary matters to the greatest extent possible.

c. The parties are encouraged not to call more than three (3) witnesses for each side.  On application of a party and good cause shown, the Special Hearing Officer may allow an increase in the number of witnesses.  Unless otherwise stipulated, the parties shall follow a classic order of presentation.

d. The parties may agree to substitute procedures regarding the presentation of evidence upon approval of the Special Hearing Officer.

13. Jury Verdict:  The verdict is binding, subject to any written high/low stipulation agreed upon by the parties.

14. Post-Trial Motions:  The parties may agree to waive any motions for directed verdict, motions to set aside the verdict, motion for additur or remittitur, or any judgment rendered by said jury.   If the parties so agree, the Special Hearing Officer shall not set aside any verdict or any judgment entered thereon, nor shall he or she direct that judgment be entered in favor of a party entitled to judgment as a matter of law, nor shall he or she order a new trial as to any issues where the verdict is alleged to be contrary to the weight of the evidence.  

15. Inconsistent Verdicts:  In the case of inconsistent verdicts, the Special Hearing Officer shall recharge the jury as appropriate and have it return to deliberation to resolve any inconsistency.

16. Incapacitated Person or Minor:  In a Fast Track jury trial involving an incapacitated person or minor, the Circuit Court Judge who assigns the case to the Fast Track jury trial process must approve any high/low parameters prior to trial in the same manner the Court would approve a settlement involving such persons.    

17. Qualification of the Special Hearing Officer:  The Special Hearing Officer will be selected by the mutual consent of the parties.  In all cases, the Special Hearing Officer must be a member in good standing of the South Carolina Bar and must have completed the trial experience required by Rule 403, SCACR.  The parties shall determine the compensation, if any, of the attorney appointed to serve as a Special Hearing Officer.  A Circuit Court Judge may also conduct a Fast Track jury trial, depending on the available resources of the Court.  Nothing herein shall be construed to give a right to demand a trial by a Circuit Court Judge in a Fast Track jury trial. 

18. Mandatory Charge of the Fast Track Jurors:  The Circuit Court Judge who qualifies jurors selected for participation in a Fast Track jury trial shall charge the jurors about the nature of the Fast Track jury trial and concerning the identity and authority of the Special Hearing Officer.  Fast Track jurors shall otherwise be qualified and sworn in the same manner as jurors selected for trial in the regular term of court.

FORM FOR THE FAST TRACK JURY TRIAL PROCESS

Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer