New grand jury law concerns state judges

New grand jury law concerns state judges
Judge Campbell Cox, II (Source: KTRE Staff)
Judge Campbell Cox, II (Source: KTRE Staff)
Judge Bob Inselmann (Source: KTRE Staff)
Judge Bob Inselmann (Source: KTRE Staff)
Judge Paul White (Source: KTRE Staff)
Judge Paul White (Source: KTRE Staff)

A new state law that went into effect on Sept.1 has state judges concerned for the grand jury process.

The new law requires grand juries to be picked in a way that is similar to how juries are picked for trials.

"The old way would let the judges have a committee that would bring us about 25-30 names of people they thought would be good for a grand jury," said 159th District Judge Paul White. "Now, we will pick the names of grand jury candidates based off of driver licenses and voter registration."

The judges argue that the new way eliminates the diversity they believe is needed by the panel of 12 people when it comes to deciding what cases go to jury trials.

""It's random," White said. "It's not the diversity of race, age, sex, or experience."

217th District Judge Bob Inselmann said the passing of House Bill 2150 came after concerns were raised in the metropolitan areas of the state.

"There were people abusing the system in Harris County," Inselmann said.

White said in the courts in question, there was up to 70 percent of the grand jury selections being involved with law enforcement. White believes this has never been an issue in the Pineywoods. White presided over the first grand jury selection in Angelina County under the new law. White said the results that came in were majority white with a minority of black grand jurors. White pointed out there were no Hispanics summoned. 145th District Judge Campbell Cox, II in Nacogdoches said his first summons under the new law saw the same results.

"I was nervous when I went out there, and I did not see a single Hispanics sitting out there," Cox said.

According to the Nacogdoches District office, the court summoned 125 potential grand jurors in September, with only 25 showing up.

They say, 'Hey that's good!' but the reality is you are getting a limited number of people showing up," Inselmann said.

Defense attorney Al Charanza sat in the first new way of selecting jurors. Charanza said he did not see concerns and said it will not change the way he defends a client.

"It was a good group," Charanza said. "There are a couple of minorities on there that do reflect our current population. Maybe not exactly, but there is a diverse group."

Inselmann said the court is also wasting tax dollars as well.

"To mail off 90 summons every three months is expensive on the tax payers when most of those people will not show up," Inselmann said. "It is just over $2 per person. That can add up for people who don't come."

The judges said even though we are still a while from the next legislative session, this law will need to be reconsidered.

"It needs to be fixed, Cox said. "We need a system that will guarantee grand juries are a good cross section of the community."

In the end, White is not sure the law will work out.

"If we can get to that diversity I guess it works, but I'm not convinced it will work that way," White said.

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