For some attorneys, opting for a bench trial is a peculiar bit of strategy that can help to ensure that complex cases are properly considered; however, sometimes you just don't have a choice in the matter.
Recently, the Mississippi AG's case against the utility company Entergy has been making headlines as the billion dollar case will be decided solely by one federal judge with the trial starting early next month. The case involves claims that the company's energy customers in the state, from 1998 to 2009, were overcharged to the tune of $1.1 billion.
An Electric Case
Notably, in the Entergy case, the judge had considered empaneling an "advisory jury" to assist by recommending factual findings, but in the end, he decided against doing so.
While the state AG is claiming that Entergy violated various laws and acted deceptively by not providing its Mississippi customers with better pricing on electric service, the company maintains that it did nothing wrong. Notably, Entergy has fought several legal battles in recent years and lobbied hard for a state law in Mississippi that some thought would put an end to this lawsuit.
Judge Is the Jury
For most claims, it won't ever seem like the logical choice to choose a bench trial over a jury trial, unless you're on the civil defense side. Although, if you've had enough experience or know enough about the particular judge in your case, it could be a strategic windfall that your adversary never sees coming.
But, apart from pulling an activist judge (who likes your cause), there may be other times when opting for a bench trial will be in your client's best interest. For example, when liability is clear and there are only statutory damages available, actually submitting the case to a jury could be wasteful. Alternatively, if you're defending an injury or employment case, even if the issues surrounding liability are unclear a judge will be preferential to a jury in most scenarios.