A state Senate committee voted unanimously Tuesday to junk Texas' controversial and long-standing "pick-a-pal system" in which judges use friends to recommend other friends to serve on grand juries.
Instead, the Senate Criminal Justice Commission approved Senate Bill 135 that will allow judges to select grand jurors from the regular jury pool, with an emphasis on making grand juries more reflective of the diverse communities they serve.
The state law governing Texas' grand jury selection rules has been in effect for decades, allowing judges to select friends as "commissioners" who then recommend names of prospective grand jurors to the judge to be selected. ...
Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and the author of the measure, said the change is needed, adding Texas is the only state that still uses the "key man" system to select grand jurors.
"This bill would require diversity," Whitmire told the committee he chairs. "Every state in the union has gone to random selection. It sends a message that we want the system to be transparent and fair."
Police, prosecutors, civil rights groups and several judges heartily endorsed the change, including former Houston state district judges Joan Huffman, now a state senator and the vice chair of the committee, and Belinda Hill, now a Harris County first assistant district attorney.