Tag Archives: grand jury

Still waiting for jury duty

I must be a weirdo.

I’m now 68 years of age and I have a item on my bucket list that I likely won’t ever fulfill.

I want to serve on a trial jury. I want to get the chance to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent of a crime. I even would settle for a civil case that would allow me to rule in favor of a plaintiff or a defendant.

It won’t happen. Not likely ever.

Over many years of living I’ve heard too many friends and acquaintances gripe about serving on a jury. They don’t have the time. They don’t want to be bothered. Public service? Let someone else do it!

Why, I never …

I posted a blog item in February 2009 that called attention to a local sheriff reporting for jury duty. Randall County’s top cop, Joel Richardson, performed his act of public service.

So, what’s your excuse?

I was proud of Sheriff Richardson.

Alas, I won’t be able to do what he did … more than likely.

In Randall County, where I’ve lived for more than two decades, I receive jury summonses about two, maybe three times a year. The county’s automated system allows summons recipients to call the prior evening to see if we have to report. Almost without fail, I call and the recording excuses “all jurors” until the next time we get called.

Then there’s this grand jury matter. I served on a Randall County grand jury some years ago. We met for three months, handing out indictments and no-billing people listed in criminal complaints brought by the district attorney’s office. The DA, James Farren, told us we could kiss any future jury duty goodbye, given our grand jury experience. Why? Defense counsel would strike us as being biased in favor of the prosecution.

Drat!

I know this sounds strange. I do wish I could get a jury summons, answer it, report for duty and then get selected to hear a case. Hey, the pay is lousy.

Then again, public service isn’t about personal enrichment … correct?

Grand jury portends intensifying of probe?

Am I able to make a presumption without sounding presumptuous?

I’ll give it a shot.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel assigned to examine Russian meddling in our 2016 election, reportedly has just impaneled a grand jury to begin hearing evidence and, more than likely, call witnesses to tell the panel what they know about this matter.

Here’s my presumption: I am going to presume that Mueller’s investigation is gaining some speed and that the former FBI director just might be smelling some blood in the water around Donald J. Trump and his presidential campaign team.

Recall for a moment another grand jury that a special counsel impaneled. I refer to the panel called into duty at the behest of Kenneth Starr, who was ostensibly examining a real estate transaction involving Bill and Hillary Clinton. Then he stumbled onto something quite unexpected: a relationship that President Clinton was having with a young White House intern. He summoned the president to testify before the grand jury, which asked him about that relationship. The president didn’t tell the truth.

Bingo! Impeachment followed.

Is the past going to be a prologue for what might await the current president?

As the Wall Street Journal reports: “Grand juries are powerful investigative tools that allow prosecutors to subpoena documents, put witnesses under oath and seek indictments, if there is evidence of a crime. Legal experts said that the decision by Mr. Mueller to impanel a grand jury suggests he believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses.”

I believe it also suggests that Mueller might expand his probe into areas other than precisely the Russian meddling and the allegations of collusion between the Russians and the Trump presidential campaign. There might be a subpoena or two coming that deals with, say, Trump’s tax returns and assorted business connections involving Trump’s business interests and Russian government officials.

Here’s another presumption: This story is still building.

Jury duty won’t happen … more than likely

I don’t have a lengthy bucket list.

My final bucket-list destination is Australia. Haven’t been there, but my wife and I intend to make the journey — possibly sooner rather than later.

The to-do bucket list used to include things such as jumping out an airplane or bungee jumping off the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. They’re off the list now.

I do, though, want to serve on a trial jury. Sadly, I believe that bucket list desire also is fading away. You likely won’t see my backside planted in a seat such as one of those pictured with this blog post.

We returned this weekend from a trip to South Texas and I had a jury summons from Randall County, Texas, waiting for me. I was to report this morning, except that when I called Tuesday night the recorded voice told me they didn’t need any jurors and that we were excused until we got summoned the next time.

Drat!

This has been the story of my jury-duty life for decades now. I get the summons and then am told to forget about it. Once, not long after we moved to Amarillo in 1995, I did get a summons and was told to report. I did. We sat around for most of the morning and then the judge came out and told us the cases had all been settled. He thanked us for our time and then we left.

I might have cooked my own bucket-list goose, though, by accepting an appointment more than a decade ago to serve on a Randall County grand jury. These are the folks who are appointed by a state district judge and then told to report one day each week for three months. That’s where we heard criminal complaints and decided whether to indict or “no-bill” a suspect in a criminal case.

It was one of the most fascinating public service duties imaginable. I learned a great deal about my community. The most glaring thing I learned is that Randall County is chock full of people who do terrible things to other people, namely children. Many of the complaints we heard — and the detail supplied by assistant district attorneys — sickened us to our core.

However, I remember quite vividly something that District Attorney James Farren told us after we had taken the oath to serve. It was that if we had any thought of ever getting picked for a trial jury that we’d might as well forget it. No criminal defense counsel would allow us to serve on a trial jury knowing that we had served on a grand jury. Such service, I was led to believe, marked us as “biased” against a defendant.

Heck, knowing that I’d settle just for making the first cut and then getting struck during juror selection.

Alas, it’s possible that won’t happen, either.

I am not seeking the big bucks. Texas doesn’t pay its trial jurors a lot of money; for that matter, we didn’t get paid much for our service on the grand jury, either.

Whatever the case, I’ll keep answering the summonses when they arrive. My hope, while fading, isn’t yet dead.

 

Ex-cop won't face federal civil rights charges

I truly don’t know what to think about the Justice Department’s decision against prosecuting a former police officer in the death of a young black man.

Darren Wilson, formerly a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, was no-billed by a local grand jury this past year after he shot Michael Brown to death during an altercation.

The grand jury’s decision to let Wilson go set off a firestorm across the nation.

Then the Justice Department said it would weigh in on whether Wilson violated any federal civil rights laws when he shot Brown to death. The DOJ said today it wouldn’t prosecute him.

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/234595-feds-will-not-charge-officer-darren-wilson-in-ferguson-shooting

Is this a good thing? For Wilson, who quit the department after the grand jury cleared him, it’s certainly good news. Brown’s family no doubt feels differently.

Me? I tend to honor the local criminal justice system’s view on these matters. The locals said they lacked sufficient evidence to bring charges against the officer and the feds have concurred with what the locals decided.

But there’s an interesting political back story here. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has been criticized — wrongly, in my view — as a “race-baiter.” The calls come from those on the right who contend that Holder, the nation’s first African-American AG, too often relies on race to inform his public policies.

Well, here we have a Justice Department deciding that the white former police officer didn’t commit a crime that needed a federal civil-rights trial to resolve.

Does that mean the criticism of Holder will subside, now that his department — which he is about to leave — has sided with the white guy?

Do not hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

 

Officers' death 'touched soul of nation'

Vice President Joe Biden said this week that the deaths of two New York City police officers “touched the soul of the nation.”

I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but the deaths did spark an additional — and much-needed — national conversation about the right and wrong ways to respond to controversy involving law enforcement.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/biden-ny-officers-deaths-touched-soul-of-nation/ar-BBhfTb1

The vice president attended the funeral of Rafael Ramos, one of two officers gunned down in Brooklyn the other day by a goon who was responding to the choking death of Eric Garner in a Staten Island confrontation with officers. Garner’s death and the grand jury decision not to indict the officer who choked Garner to death, coming on the heels of the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown, has contributed a lot of unrest, violence and further criminal activity.

Ramos’s death along with fellow officer Wenjian Liu has touched many Americans at many levels. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the shootings “an attack on all of us.”

There can be no silver lining to be found in this incident, other than to call attention to the lawless response to perceived wrongs done by the criminal justice system.

The grand jury — in my view — erred on not indicting the officer who choked Eric Garner to death. No responsible individual, though, responds by attacking other police officers in the cowardly manner that resulted in the deaths of Ramos and Liu.

It does my heart some measure of good to see these officers honored. They were heroes of the first order. And yes, their deaths have touched our soul.

 

Grand jury no-bill is in; let calm prevail

This might be too much to ask, but I’ll ask it anyway.

Can the good folks of Ferguson, Mo., resist the urge to damage people’s property and injure fellow human beings in the wake of the grand jury’s decision to decline prosecution of a white police officer who shot a black youth to death this past summer?

The grand jury returned the no-bill decision this evening in the case of Officer Darren Wilson; the dead teen is Michael Brown.

The town has been the subject of intense media scrutiny ever since the shooting. There’s been a lot of anxiety, anger and tension in the town ever since. The media have contributed to much of the tension, in my view, with its incessant coverage of the event, the aftermath, and the potential for violence if the grand jury made the decision it did today.

Yes, there have been some key questions asked about the state of police relations with the African-American community — in Ferguson and in cities and towns across the country. They are valid questions that ask whether African-American youth are treated the same as other youth by the police.

Let’s examine those questions.

As for the reaction to the no-bill, let’s also understand that the shop owner, the restaurant proprietor or the average Joe aren’t culpable. They’re all innocent victims of random violence that has erupted as a result of past perceived injustices.

We need not create more of them.

 

 

Abuse of power allegation may spell trouble

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is looking and sounding more and more like a candidate for president in 2016.

That is, unless he gets indicted by a Travis County grand jury for abusing the power of his office.

If he faces criminal charges, all bets are off for the lame-duck governor.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/25998425/grand-jury-decides-if-perry-abused-power

The panel is expected to decide soon whether Perry abused his power when he vetoed money for the Travis County district attorney’s office after DA Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Perry demanded her resignation, which was justified, given that the DA lost her moral authority to prosecute drunken drivers.

Then he allegedly went a step too far by threatening to veto $7.5 million that was earmarked for the Travis County DA’s public integrity unit, which is charged with investigating charges of ethical lapses by state officials.

Oh, did I mention that Lehmberg is a Democrat and Perry is a Republican? That distinction seems to matter.

Lehmberg refused to quit and Perry pulled the money.

Now he’s being investigated for abusing his power.

So, what does this mean for his budding presidential campaign? Plenty. He cannot possibly campaign as a Mr. Clean Governor if he’s about to stand trial for a felony offense related to the performance of the office he’s occupied since The Flood.

Then again, if the grand jury no-bills the governor — which of course is a possibility — then he’s back in the presidential sweepstakes once again.

But if the indictment arrives, well, if you’ll pardon the expression: Oops.

Grand jury no bills animal control

A Randall County grand jury has returned what could be seen as an unsatisfactory decision on Amarillo Animal Control’s controversial treatment of animals in its possession.

The grand jury decided against indicting anyone for criminal wrongdoing in what has been a major embarrassment for the city.

http://www.connectamarillo.com/news/story.aspx?id=1056604#.U5kLwFJOWt8

District Attorney James Farren expressed surprise at the no-bill decision.

I guess we have to live with the grand jury decision, given the system we have of investigating these kinds of activities.

The good news for the animals under the care of the city, however, is that (a) the two people at the top of the Animal Control Department chain of command are gone and (b) changes have been implemented to stop the kind of abuse inflicted on the unwanted pets.

Former director Mike McGee and assistant director Shannon Barlow both have “retired” from the city. They should have been canned after it was revealed that animals had been euthanized improperly. They were being administered the wrong drugs and there had been reports of considerable suffering by the animals during the process.

Changes were made almost immediately, while McGee and Barlow were put on “administrative leave,” which meant they were getting paid while being ordered off the job.

The city issued a press release that stated: “Operations at Animal Control move forward under the guidance of interim director Scott McDonald, as the search for a permanent animal control director takes place. The City continues to look at areas for improvement at the animal shelter with the goal of increasing adoptions and making the shelter a sanitary, comfortable place for animals. Improvements include operational changes and improvements to facilities, animal intake and care procedures, and employee training practices. An internal management review will be undertaken immediately to determine if there have been noncriminal violations of policies or procedures and to further assist in improving shelter operations.”

The city should proceed with that “internal management review.” Meantime, look long and hard for an administrator who will take better care of these animals. After all, a “shelter” by definition is a place where unwanted animals at least can be granted temporary sanctuary for the time they have left.

Grand jury has much to ponder in animal abuse case

Randall County grand jurors have met this week.

They won’t meet again for another two weeks. They have a big case on their plate. It involves allegations of abuse of animals kept at the Amarillo Animal Control Shelter and whether they were euthanized properly.

Two senior animal control officials — director Mike McGee and deputy Shannon Barlow — are on “administrative leave.” The city has enacted changes in its euthanasia policy to correct what it acknowledges went wrong at the shelter. My own view is that McGee and Barlow already are deemed culpable in this matter and should be terminated.

Someone — maybe more — might be facing criminal charges if he grand jury decides to issue indictments.

I had thought there might be a decision this week. It won’t happen for at least another two weeks, given that the grand jury meets every other Wednesday.

That’s all right. The panel needs to consider lots of evidence. The district attorney’s office is presenting witnesses, documents and is trotting at least one prosecutor who will talk to the grand jury about the case.

I’m prepared to wait for as long as it takes for the grand jury to make its decision.

Having once served on a Randall County grand jury, I understand fully the stakes. Our grand jury didn’t get a case that has drawn this much attention, but we had our share of heartbreaking cases to ponder.

This one, though, has everyone watching.

Take your time, grand jurors, and be sure you get it done correctly.