Originally created 11/18/99

Creation of special panel a first in city, officials say



Augusta's Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. on Wednesday ordered a special grand jury empaneled to continue two previous juries' investigations of city government.

The order is the first ever issued in Augusta as far as Chief Judge Fleming and other longtime officials can recall. The judge, who has been on the Superior Court bench in the Augusta Judicial Circuit for 30 years and practiced law 20 years before that, said he does not know of any other special grand jury impaneled during those years.

Chief Judge Fleming ordered the special jury set up at the request of Augusta Mayor Bob Young and the second of two regular grand juries that investigated corruption allegations against city government.

The two regular grand juries questioned public officials' ethics, purchasing, contracts, personnel policies and the city personnel board and called for alerts.

A panel of not less than 16 and not more than 23 qualified residents of Richmond County will meet the Monday after Thanksgiving with Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett to be sworn in and hear their instructions, Chief Judge Fleming said.

The special grand jury will have the same powers as a regular grand jury except it will have no deadline. Regular grand juries meet for two months and then another grand jury is sworn in.

The special grand jury will have the power to subpoena witnesses and question them under oath and to call in experts to help with technical data that jurors might not have the expertise or time to work through.

If the jury finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it can issue a bill of indictment, Chief Judge Fleming said.

Judge Pickett will oversee the jurors and periodically receive reports from them. If he determines the investigation should continue, he will direct the grand jury to do so. If he thinks jurors' work is concluded, he can terminate the panel, Chief Judge Fleming said.

Grand jurors will be chosen from a list of 2,000 of "the most intelligent and upright citizens of the community," according to the Handbook for Georgia Grand Jurors.

That list is developed by a six-member board of jury commissioners appointed by the chief judge from a master list of 20,000 from which all jurors are selected. The primary source of the master list is the list of registered voters, but jury commissioners can use any source to ensure that the jury list reflects Richmond County's racial makeup.

Quentin Conway, 77, an investigator with the district attorney's office, said in his 52 years in law enforcement in Augusta he has never heard of a special grand jury being impaneled in Richmond County.

"I've been an investigator for the Richmond County district attorney for 27 years, and before that I was with the Augusta police department for 25 years, and never in the history since I've been in this business have I heard of a special grand jury by the state, not here locally or in our circuit.

"In fact, I didn't even know the state was authorized to have a special grand jury. This is all new to me."