If you are involved with a lawsuit, you probably imagine your day in court involving a jury listening to the evidence and rendering a decision. After all, the US Constitution protects our right to a trial by jury. But what happens if the court issues a notice scheduling your trial to be heard in front of a judge instead of a jury?
Leigh Ann Schell and McGready Richeson (“Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against Kuchler Polk Weiner LLC (“Kuchler”). Kuchler filed an answer and included a jury demand. Kuchler also paid the applicable filing fee. The trial court then held a pre-trial conference where it selected a trial date. At the conference, both parties’ attorneys and the trial judge signed a pre-trial notice that included the trial date for a trial to be held in front of a judge.
Later, Kuchler’s attorneys noticed the alleged error of setting the trial before a judge, not a jury. Kuchler filed a Motion to Continue, arguing it had not waived its right to a jury trial and had not authorized its attorneys to waive that right on its behalf. As evidence, Kuchler introduced an affidavit from its managing partner and authorized representative stating Kuchler had never authorized anyone to waive its right to a trial by jury. The trial court denied the motion, and Kuchler appealed.
Under La. C.C.P. art. 1733(B), there are two steps for a party to obtain a trial by jury: (1) file a pleading demand a trial by jury, and (2) posting bond as required under La C.C.P. 1734. On appeal, the court considered whether the trial court erred in finding Kuchler waived its right to a trial by jury when its attorney signed the pre-trial notice.
The appellate court explained when a party proves his attorney acted without authority; they have not waived their right to a jury trial. See Revel v. Telecheck Louisiana. Here, Kuchler provided an uncontested affidavit from its managing partner and authorized representative and established it never consented to its attorney waiving its right to a jury trial. Kuchler had also previously requested a jury trial, so the pre-trial notice could not supersede that timely request where Kuchler had not authorized its lawyers to waive its right to a trial by jury.
The appellate court also rejected Plaintiff’s argument that it would be prejudiced by moving the trial to a jury trial. The appellate court explained its ruling did not change the trial date. Further, Plaintiff’s argument did not supersede Kuchler’s right to a trial by jury. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of Kuchler’s motion to have a jury trial.
This case illustrates the importance of clearly communicating with your legal counsel to ensure the course of action you want to pursue in your lawsuit is clear. If you think your right to a jury trial might have been improperly waived, a good lawyer can help advise you on potential remedial actions.
Written By a Berniard Law Firm Writer
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on the Right to a Jury Trial: The Right to a Jury Trial in Louisiana is Very Hard to Deny