In Harris County and other Texas jurisdictions where judges use the “pick-a-pal” system to empanel grand jurors, bias and corruption are natural byproducts. The judge picks a pal, called a “commissioner,” to go out and find some more pals to serve on a grand jury and supposedly mete out justice. The process, as I’ve written, has been outlawed in the federal system, and is still only used in Texas and California.
But it wasn’t used in this case.
Richardson didn’t ask a buddy to empanel the grand jurors. The members were randomly selected from Travis County jurors who answered a summons – a similar process to the one used to select regular trial juries.
Attorneys on both sides didn’t respond to my questions on whether potential grand jurors were screened for any conflicts or biases that would keep them from fairly considering the case. Tyus hasn’t returned phone calls or email, either. But a few other grand jurors have told the Chronicle that the indictment had nothing to do with politics.
And who is Perry to say it did? A presidential contender and a man facing two felonies, that’s who.
Even veteran criminal defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, who has defended Perry saying he appropriately used his veto power, hasn’t blamed the indictment on politics.
“This is not one where Rick Perry’s lawyers can say ‘this is Ronnie Earl at it again’,” DeGuerin told me, referring to the former Travis County district attorney often criticized for going after political enemies.
Judge Bert Richardson picked the grand jury from among regular folks responding to a jury summons. A cross section of the community is what grand juries should be made of. If people are upset that more Republicans weren’t on the grand jury, perhaps they should tell Republicans to respond to those summonses.
As we’ve documented many times, the “pick-a-pal” grand jury system used in Harris County is ripe for abuse and has been abused. Mrs. Falkenberg’s recent spotlight on the system is very much welcome and we hope the judges in Harris County stop using the system until state law is changed to do away with it.
I am curious to know if she now wishes that she hadn’t praised the 185th Grand Jury that was used to oust former DA Pat Lykos. Here is what Falkenberg wrote back in October, 2011:
Grand jurors of the 185th criminal court, you are my heroes.
I had lost all faith that any elected official would get to the bottom of the BAT van controversy, that any of them would care enough to figure out whether the Houston Police Department or Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos‘ office were trying to cover up faulty evidence. Or whether the DA’s office tried to retaliate against the whistle-blower who brought problems with HPD’s blood alcohol testing vans to light.
Heroes? Hardly. Useful tools for a DA candidate named Mike Anderson and his trusty consultant? Absolutely. Led by a Wyatt-Earp wanna be foreperson? Without a doubt. Facilitated by a judge that didn’t like Pat Lykos? Yep.
Remember, not a single indictment was handed down after this prolonged witch hunt, the two fired lab clerks also lost in Federal court and are being forced to cover court costs, and those BAT vans are still in use today.
Perhaps her earlier column explains why Falkenberg has refused to write about the 185th in her series on abusive grand juries in Harris County. Hopefully she can get past that and shine some light on the abuse that took place in the 185th courtroom.