The District Clerk’s jury operation will begin supplying all grand jurors through random selection in Harris County if Gov. Greg Abbott, as expected, signs a bill passed by state lawmakers May 31.
The bill will prohibit the current practice statewide of allowing judges to pick a key man, who in turn lines up people to serve on grand juries.
The practice came under fire after the Houston Chronicle and other media organizations reported that some grand juries have been led by current or former law enforcement personnel. In some instances, these grand juries decided whether police officers would face charges for shooting suspects.
The law likely would go into effect Sept. 1.
District Clerk Chris Daniel said, “We will put the new law into practice when it goes into effect. The new selection process will instill more confidence in the justice system, and we welcome it for that reason.”
The law should have minimal effect on the District Clerk’s Office other than the jury wheel may be depleted a little more quickly because the DCO will be supplying jurors for grand juries, DCO Chief Deputy Kevin Mauzy said.
Under the law, the only method to empanel a grand jury will be for a judge to direct that 20 to 125 individuals be summoned as potential grand jurors. From those summoned, 16 would be selected for grand jury service (12 would be grand jurors, and four would be alternates). The bill says the grand jurors and alternates should come from a cross section of the county.
Chief Deputy Mauzy said, “One purpose of the bill is to restore public confidence in the grand jury process by ensuring that grand juries represent a cross section of the community, something that could be lacking under the current method. Utilizing the jury wheel to select grand jurors could deplete the jury wheel at a quicker rate, causing the District Clerk’s Office to reconstitute the jury wheel sooner than it otherwise would have. But that effect would really be inconsequential.”
Some Harris County judges already were forming grand juries based on random selection. These judges have been coming to Jury Plaza to find grand jurors.