Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bill eliminating pick-a-pal grand jury system clears committee

State Sen. John Whitmire's bill eliminating the "key man" system for picking grand jurors cleared the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday. Reported the Houston Chronicle (March 10):
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.


TriggerMortis said...

"Police, prosecutors, civil rights groups and several judges heartily endorsed the change".

I'm sure the police and prosecutors will be thrilled. Those civil rights groups, not so much.

As was made patently clear in Ferguson recently, the district attorney has all the power and will present only the evidence that will produce their desired outcome.

" It sends a message that we want the system to be transparent and fair".

The only way to make the system fair is to remove the secrecy which serves no purpose except to keep the system corrupt.

Anonymous said...

I have been a attorney in Harris County for 35 years and have yet to see anything about the justice system "fair and transparent'.

Anonymous said...

Our system seems to be somewhat "transparent and fair" now? Not that I have ever noticed...even without the "grand jury" system, laws governing discovery and admissions still are a bit archaic when it comes to "fair and transparent" particularly in the family court system. Those judges seem to side rule for the plaintiff or respondent with the most money...even when criminal charges result in the family court processes to resolve issues of violence or drug use and neglect. Money talks the rest suffer in silence as the media fails to inform the public that they are and have been "hoodwinked" by their elected officials. Anyone for another game of thimblerig?

Soronel Haetir said...


The following is from "The French Connection" (the book, not the movie) describing the grand jury system of New York in the 1960s, scary stuff:

A grand jury is made up of twenty-three citizens-- twenty-two jurors and a foreman. Qualifications for grand jury duty are more stringent than for trial juries. The panel consists entirely of volunteers, most of them professional or retired people of relative affluence and, generally speaking, of wider intelligence than "conscripted" jurymen. Of the twenty-three panel members--of whom no more than six may be women--a quorum of sixteen is required on any one case, and to obtain an indictment at least twelve must vote in favor.


Amazing how the author didn't see anything wrong with such a system, isn't it?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

In 1999 I was arrested, My first Court appearance in Court I was represented by a Court appointed attorney who said he could enter a guilty plea and get me 9 years. I made bond and hired a well known Houston attorney for 30 g's who in turn got me 15 days. The reason is this, defense attorney's donate money to judges election campaigns which they are allowed to keep when they retire. "transparent and fair" give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Three males 16, 18 & 19 arrested for breaking & entering. 18 & 19 y.o. had money and connections ... not a day in jail even their arrest expunged.

16 y.o was a foster kid (no resources or connections). He spent 5 years in the can.

Tscc said...

Grand juries are rubber stamps of the prosecutors. If a prosecutor wants an indictment, he/she'll get one. There is no advocate for the accused, and in my county (Taylor) they don't even retain the transcripts. I hope this is a step in the right direction away from the nepotistic system which we now suffer under.

Anonymous said...

There have been some interesting comments about "jury reform" from prosecutors in newspapers in the last couple of weeks. It would be interesting to see who opposes this bill and the reasons for opposition coming from the mouths of prosecutors.