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