Defender wants motorists to join voters in jury pool

June 10, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County public defender yesterday asked the county's administrative judge to recommend changing the way prospective jurors are picked by selecting them from motor vehicle records along with voter registration lists.

Alan R. Friedman said in a letter to Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. that using Motor Vehicle Administration records would create a larger pool of prospective jurors and increase minority representation to better reflect the county's 12 percent minority population.

"In a democracy, the idea is to be as inclusive as possible, not exclusive," Mr. Friedman said.

Noting that Baltimore Circuit Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan is asking the Maryland Court of Appeals to authorize the same change for the city's juries, Mr. Friedman said such a move would mean less frequent jury service required of registered voters.

"By expanding our jury rolls, we involve people who otherwise would not participate in our judicial system and we thus increase the number of our citizens who will be invested in fair and impartial results in our courtrooms," he said in the letter.

Mr. Friedman said yesterday he hopes his letter and Judge Kaplan's request will bring about a meeting of Judge Heller, the county bar association, State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee and Jury Commissioner William A. Chansler to discuss the issue.

"Right now, you have people who aren't registering to vote to avoid jury duty," Mr. Friedman said.

Gene Raynor, administrator of the state board of elections, confirmed that "thousands" of people don't register to vote in order to avoid jury duty.

"How do I know? Because people call up and tell me, 'Take my name off the rolls, I don't want jury duty,' " Mr. Raynor said. "I've heard it in every county in the state."

Judge Heller said yesterday that he is willing to consider using MVA records, but that he first wants to discuss the issue with county officials as well as Judge Kaplan and Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, who as chief judge of the state Court of Appeals would have to approve the plan.

"I don't know exactly what his [Mr. Friedman] concerns are, so it's a little premature to say what we might do, but certainly it's worth discussing," Judge Heller said.

Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who as chief judge of the 4th Circuit oversees the Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard courthouses, also said yesterday it may be a good idea to use MVA records in Anne Arundel "as long as the labor and the costs" are reasonable. "I think we should have as broad a base [for juries] as possible," Judge Thieme said.

But Mr. Weathersbee said he would be opposed to changing the current system without careful study of all of its ramifications. "The current source of jurors . . . has worked well for years.," he said. "I don't see it as a problem in Anne Arundel County and any changes should be looked at very, very carefully."

Mr. Chansler said yesterday that he has heard very few complaints from Anne Arundel jurors about having to serve too often. He said he routinely excuses any jurors if they have been asked to serve on juries twice in the same three-year period, and they want to be excused.

Mr. Chansler, Mr. Friedman and others familiar with the courts said there is no way to determine what percentage of the county's juries have been minorities. Jurors are not required, and often do not answer questions on the county's Jury Qualification Forms, about their race, Mr. Chansler said.

But those familiar with the county courts agree that minority representation on juries is usually far below the county's 12 percent population and that using MVA records should bring in more minority jurors.

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