‘Bad-ju­ror list’ should be made pub­lic, Fort Worth at­tor­ney says

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Gene Trainor

Some Tar­rant County pros­e­cu­tors keep a se­cret list of peo­ple they don’t want on a jury for undis­closed rea­sons, and a Fort Worth crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney wants the pub­lic to have ac­cess to the list.

Pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense attorneys typ­i­cally se­lect a jury af­ter voir dire — ques­tion­ing po­ten­tial can­di­dates. Both sides can re­ject peo­ple who they think could hurt their case.

But Tar­rant County pros­e­cu­tors al­ready have a “bad-ju­ror list” of peo­ple they don’t want on ju­ries and why.

“They’ve got these ju­rors who maybe didn’t like them per­son­ally,” said crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney Wil­liam Ray of Fort Worth, who wants the list dis­closed. “They’ve just black­balled them and said, ‘You’ll never be on a jury again.’”

Ray has writ­ten to Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Abbott en­cour­ag­ing him to force the Tar­rant County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice to make the list pub­lic af­ter pros­e­cu­tors re­fused Ray’s request, sent June 24, to vol­un­tar­ily pro­vide it.

Tar­rant County As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Ashley Fourt has con­tested its re­lease, writ­ing in a let­ter to Abbott that the list is a “work prod­uct” — a des­ig­na­tion that could keep it pri­vate. She said last week that ju­rors get on the list based on the sub­jec­tive im­pres­sions of pros­e­cu­tors, which should not be dis­cussed pub­licly.

Ray, a for­mer Tar­rant County pros­e­cu­tor, said he dis­cov­ered that last month when pros­e­cu­tors gave him doc­u­ments about ju­rors for a case. At the bot­tom of one page was “Note: None of the ju­rors are on the Bad Ju­ror List,” he said.

District At­tor­ney Joe Shan­non and Fourt said they found out about the bad-ju­ror list only af­ter Ray’s request. They also said that they do not know how many names are on the list or how many lawyers use it but that it’s only a few pages.

Pros­e­cu­tors who may have been in­volved in main­tain­ing the list did not re­turn a request for com­ment last week.

Shan­non said he did not know how long the list has ex­isted or what prompted its cre­ation.

Fourt’s let­ter to Abbott, dated June 30, out­lines how it works: “At the con­clu­sion of a crim­i­nal jury trial, pros­e­cu­tors and/or staff of this of­fice in­serts in­for­ma­tion about a par­tic­u­lar ‘bad ju­ror’ into a word doc­u­ment. When a jury panel is as­sem­bled for a pend- ing crim­i­nal case, pros­e­cu­tors will use this list to aid in jury se­lec­tion.”

Whether bad-ju­ror lists are com­mon re­mains un­clear.

The Texas District & County Attorneys As­so­ci­a­tion has no data on the is­sue. Sev­eral le­gal ex­perts in Texas and na­tion­wide said they never heard of such lists. But The Dal­las Morn­ing News re­ported in 2006 that Dal­las County also has a bad-ju­ror list.

Paul But­ler, who teaches crim­i­nal law at Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity Law School in Washington, D.C., sees the list as an ad­van­tage for the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice when it goes to trial.

“I never heard of it be­fore,” said But­ler, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor for the Jus­tice Depart­ment. “But I have to say it’s not a bad idea. ... It seems al­most more thought­ful and con­sid­er­ate than what a lot pros­e­cu­tors do, which is to go by looks.”

Meg Pen­rose, who teaches at the Texas Wes­leyan School of Law, said peo­ple can­not legally be re­moved from a jury be­cause of race, re­li­gion, na­tional ori­gin or gen­der. She had no is­sue if Tar­rant County re­jects po­ten­tial ju­rors for other rea­sons.

“I’m a per­son who be­lieves that many cases are won or lost at jury se­lec­tion,” said Pen­rose, who some­times works as a de­fense at­tor­ney. “A good lawyer would be able to get that in­for­ma­tion any­way” through voir dire. “Some cit­i­zens might find it dis­taste­ful, but there’s noth­ing il­le­gal about it.”

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