Ann McCrory, the judicial administrator in East Baton Rouge Parish, acknowledged on the witness stand Wednesday that the buck stops with her.
And for nearly eight years, until a legal challenge just last week, nobody in her administration vetted the jury rolls in the 19th Judicial District to see if they were up to date.
The “jury wheel,” a roster of more than 300,000 people culled from voter and driver’s license records – from which groups of qualified jurors are drawn at random for trial -- was frozen in time.
There were no fresh faces anywhere, McCrory testified. No one born after June 2, 1993 has ever had a chance at jury service in the parish, or even received a summons, because their names didn't make it onto the wheel.
And only in the last few days did McCrory, who has overseen the court for eight years, find that the problem went further, she said. Also left out: anyone who has moved into the parish since 2011.
“That’s right,” McCrory repeated over and over, in a terse admission of what Kerry Cuccia, director of the Capital Assistance Project of Southeast Louisiana, described as “an error of mammoth proportions.”
The exclusion of a whole swath of the parish from jury service, which McCrory blamed on a “computer glitch,” was revealed during jury selection in the trial of Grover Cannon, who faces the death penalty in the 2015 killing of a Shreveport-area police officer.
The admission by McCrory and other court officials came during a hearing that was ordered Saturday by the Louisiana Supreme Court after Caddo District Judge Ramona Emanuel declined to entertain a motion by Cannon's attorneys to throw out the jury pool and start over. Defense lawyers had pointed out that none of the 566 people in the pool was younger than 26, and records of jury service from earlier years showed a similar void.
Cannon’s trial was moved from Caddo Parish to Baton Rouge, but only for jury selection. The 12 jurors and alternates who will be chosen will head to Shreveport to judge Cannon’s fate at trial.
McCrory claimed the problem originated with a Texas contractor, Judicial Systems, Inc., that runs the jury system in East Baton Rouge, as well as those of various other courts nationally.
She said the court received voter and driver data every two years, and that Judicial Systems would combine the lists, weed out duplicate names and “dump” the rest into the firm’s jury-management software, which is contained on a dedicated server on the court’s third floor.
She said new juror data was culled on at least three occasions and uploaded onto the court's system. But it never "stuck," meaning the list uploaded in 2011 has essentially remained constant.
The Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a state judge to pause jury selection in a capital murder trial to conduct a hearing on why young peop…
All told, the data appears to show that perhaps more than 100,000 East Baton Rouge Parish residents were excused from jury duty in one of the state’s busiest parishes for trials.
Cannon’s attorneys want the current group of prospective jurors tossed out and a new one plucked from a new jury wheel.
Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart appeared briefly at the hearing, declaring himself unfazed by the unusual trouble his prosecutors faced, forced to defend the jury system in a parish 250 miles from home.
“In any capital case you’re concerned” with issues that might overturn a conviction, but that wasn’t enough to start over with a new jury pool, Stewart said.
“I think he can get a fair trial” with the current jury group, he said of Cannon, who sat at the defense table Wednesday in a white suit, his hair pulled back in tufts with a bun.
Cannon’s lawyers say the problems with the jury pool mean that the pool does not meet constitutional requirements that it be made of a “fair cross-section” of the community.
When 566 Baton Rouge residents were called up for jury duty last week in a capital murder trial, defense attorneys were quick to spot a racial…
Attorney Dwight Doskey told Emanuel that she should order a do-over of the jury selection phase of the trial based on state and federal claims that the group convened for Cannon’s case is illegal.
Doskey dismissed a suggestion by Caddo Parish Assistant District Attorney Suzanne Williams that the fact new residents of all ages were excluded from parish jury rolls diminished the impact of the wholesale removal of all young residents.
Williams insisted there was “absolutely no intent, no plan, no system. There was no intent to discriminate or exclude.”
But Doskey argued that it doesn’t matter whether the court meant to exclude a group of eligible jurors, only that a group of qualified jurors was improperly stripped from the rolls.
“We’re not talking about underrepresentation. We’re talking about complete and total, utter exclusion,” Doskey said. “You can’t get any more systematic than a computer.”
Gary Dower, president of Judicial Systems, confirmed McCrory’s assessment of the problem uploading the jury data but said he hadn’t yet pinpointed the problem.
“None of the new people appear in the wheel as it is now,” Dower said, testifying over a telephone line. “There’s no doubt they’ve been removed. I know what happened; I just don’t know why.”
One jury expert called the Baton Rouge experience “a variation on a theme” of court foul-ups that have left hunks of names off jury lists.
Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts, said she was familiar with Judicial Systems and described its jury management software as “a perfectly good system.”
She said it was doubtful, given past court decisions, that Cannon’s attorneys will succeed in their argument that the excluded 18- to 25-year-olds make up the kind of “distinctive group” -- such as a racial minority -- that warrants halting jury selection and starting anew based on a violation of the Sixth Amendment.
Still, Hannaford-Agor called the gaffe in East Baton Rouge an oddity for how long it took to discover it.
“Probably in the first year or two you might not notice if you’re missing 18- to 20-year-olds,” she said. “Obviously as time has marched on, you definitely start (noting), ‘We don’t have anybody under the age of 26?’ It’s kind of weird.”
Doskey argued Wednesday that under state law, Emanuel doesn’t need to show intent – just that jury exclusion happened.
Court officials said they had not yet determined the racial makeup of those likely missing from the jury wheel.
Emanuel, who had denied Cannon’s claims before the state’s high court reversed her and ordered a hearing, said she would rule on the question Thursday morning.
Jury selection is scheduled to resume afterward.