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The Grand Jury selection issue in the DA race

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I saw this in today's Chronicle


Kim Ogg, the Democrat challenging Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson in next week's general election, criticized the GOP incumbent Monday for not working hard enough to change the system used by most of Houston's 22 felony judges to pick grand juries.

"Our grand juries should reflect the population of Harris County, selected in a way so that all our residents feel the system is fair," Ogg said in a news release. She said Harris County is the last major metropolitan area in the State of Texas to use the "key man" selection process of grand jury selection.

"Even the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed concern that the 'key man' system we use to pick grand jurors is ripe for abuse and favoritism," Ogg said. "This is why it has earned the nickname 'pick a pal.'"

Anderson, formerly a state district judge, has said the elected district attorney has no power to compel judges to use an alternative system, like a random jury selection, similar to the way trial juries are selected.

Grand juries decide whether probable cause exists to take a case to trial.

Anderson has publicly praised Brock Thomas, her former law partner and now a judge, for using alternatives to the key man system, but does not have power over any judge's decisions, said Sara Marie Kinney, Anderson's spokeswoman.

Kinney said there are only two things a district attorney in Texas can do to change how grand juries are selected: suggest alternatives to the judges or lobby the state legislature to change the law.

If elected, Anderson will consider including that legislation change in her lobbying priorities, Kinney said.

Grand juries in Harris County typically meet for several hours a day, two days a week for three months. Advocates of the key man system, in which judges pick a grand jury commissioner who then selects 11 people to serve, generally say the onerous scheduling makes picking a random grand jury difficult. They point to the advantages of having a commissioner who can pick people with flexible schedules, generally retirees and other people who are financially independent.


I went back to see just what a Grand Jury is expected to do, since a lot of my legal knowledge might have come from old Law and Order episodes :l


A grand jury is a legal body that is empowered to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. A grand jury may compel the production of documents and may compel the sworn testimony of witnesses to appear before it. A grand jury is separate from the courts, which do not preside over its functioning.[1]

Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing. Grand juries perform both accusatory and investigatory functions. The investigatory functions of the grand jury include obtaining and reviewing documents and other evidence and hearing the sworn testimony of witnesses that appear before it. The grand jury's accusatory function is to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that one or more persons committed a certain offense within the venue of the district court. The "grand jury" in the United States is composed of 16 to 23 citizens. In Ireland, they also functioned as local government authorities.

A grand jury is so named because traditionally it has a greater number of jurors than a trial jury, also known as a petit (French for small) jury or, in English usage the spelling can be petty jury.[2]


The term "Blue Ribbon Jury: came back to me  from some pre-law classes of 3 decades ago:


Blue Ribbon Jury A group of highly qualified persons selected by a court on the request of either party to a lawsuit to decide complex and specialized disputes.

A blue ribbon jury is also known as a special jury. From the earliest period of Common Law, such juries were used to try cases beyond the understanding of the average person so that justice could be administered as fairly as possible. A number of states still provide for blue ribbon juries by statute. It is not an absolute right in all jurisdictions, however, but rather a matter wherein the court can exercise its discretion.

The use of a blue ribbon jury does not violate the constitutional guarantees of trial by a fair and impartial jury or equal protection of laws if the process by which its jurors are selected is neither Arbitrary nor invidiously discriminatory.


Because I was curious, I  googled term "Key Man Grand Jury" from the chron.com article https://www.tdcaa.com/journal/lone-star-grand-jury-selection-and-independence

and "Key man Grand Jury in Us   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_Selection_and_Service_Act


In those "Law and Order" episodes it seemed the Grand Jury always voted in the way the DA wanted-- I thought that a bit silly- but with the notion of Key man selection. . . . . I can see where that might happen  . . . but is it even on the radar of most Houstonians? It seems a bit unsettling.



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