Whitmire and Dutton Tackle Grand Jury Reform
Just a few days into the 2015 legislative session, several elected officials have filed bills at the state level increasing momentum behind a national movement for justice reform. State Senator John Whitmire and State Representative Harold Dutton have an astonishing 60+ years of combined service as elected officials at the state capitol. They've filed legislation that would do away with the "pick-a-pal" system that allows friends of judges to choose the members of grand juries across the Lone Star State. As it stands today, district judges may either use the jury pool or select someone they know to "round up" a grand jury of their peers. Imagine allowing your next door neighbor, your son's pee-wee football coach or church member the authority to choose all your potential grand jury members. Would that group of people be as diverse as it should be? No.
Whitmire's S.B. 135 in the State Senate and Dutton's H.B. 282 are identical and already moving in both houses. According initial versions of the bill, it strikes language allowing district judges the ability to appoint commissioners then choose grand jury candidates from their friends and neighbors.
While Houston Justice has taken aim at the system locally with grand jury seminars and registration, it's exciting to see two legislators with seniority filing laws on the subject. To date, we've collected, notorized and turned in over 200 grand jury applications from citizens of Harris County that are willing, able and qualified to serve on a grand jury. We're keeping in touch with each of them to gather data and get a better understanding of what the process looks like. We need our grand jury system to be as diverse as Harris County and as fair as possible. In an article by Houston Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg, we get a disturbing glimpse behind the veil of secrecy where grand jurors who are connected to law enforcement end up knocking the freight train of truth of it's tracks.
If passed, this law would make Texas' grand jury system as fair and untarnished as systems in 48 of the 50 states in the union by going to a randomized pool.
Call Sen. Whitmire at 512.463.0115 or Rep. Dutton at 512.463.0510 to thank them for taking this huge step toward Grand Jury Reform here in the State of Texas.