Originally created 12/01/99

Jury's makeup diverse



More than a half-century separates the youngest and oldest members of Richmond County's special grand jury charged in coming months with investigating Augusta government operations.

The youngest grand juror is 23, and the oldest is 78.

There are 10 women, five black and five white; and 13 men, nine white and four black.

They will take up where two earlier grand juries left off after raising questions about Augusta public officials' ethics, purchasing, contracts, personnel policies and the city personnel board.

The 23-member special jury, empaneled Monday, received an orientation from District Attorney Danny Craig and Judge Albert M. Pickett, the Superior Court jurist who is overseeing the jury's work.

The special grand jury includes homemakers, a mechanic, a social worker, a school principal, two engineers, a chemist, a broker, a respiratory therapist, a medical technologist, two managers, a computer specialist, a nutritionist and a writer. One is self-employed, and the occupations of a few were unknown to the jury clerk who provided demographic information about the panel.

From those demographics, almost nothing can be gleaned about what the group will do, said Bob Brussack, professor of law at the University of Georgia.

While an entire profession claims to have expertise in predicting what trial juries will do based on such information, Mr. Brussack said little, if any, study has been done on grand juries.

"This is a very inexact science, even in the area where you have jury consultants," he said. "I think it's fair to say it's very unpredictable in many cases what's going to happen. That's why just in terms of my area, civil litigation, the settlement rate is well north of 90 percent because the parties recognize the uncertainty of the outcome goes way up when you go before a jury.

"So my guess is that may hold true as well for the grand jury. I don't know how much you can divine from the demographics of a grand jury."

Much of the grand jury's work is secret, which makes it extremely hard to predict what jurors will come up with, said Ronald Carlson, professor of law at the University of Georgia.

"And that's part of the nature of the process," Mr. Carlson said.

"Until the grand jury returns a report or comes out with an indictment or takes specific action, their proceedings are kept secret so that people who are under suspicion but may be innocent won't be wrongly accused in the press and in the media and in the public mind."

Special grand jurors have imposed a strong gag order on themselves, Mr. Craig said.

Any information given in the grand jury room must be kept secret by law. But members of the special jury decided they will not speak even in general terms about their service, Mr. Craig said.

It will take some time before the jurors are in a position to begin their investigation, Mr. Craig said. They have copies of reports issued by the county's past two grand juries plus thousands of pages of testimony given before those juries, Mr. Craig said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper and Sandy Hodson at (706) 724-0851 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.

The special Richmond County grand jury that will investigate Augusta city government in coming months includes:

10 women -- 5 black, 5 white

13 men -- 9 white, 4 black

Average female juror's age: 50

Average male juror's age: 40

Overall average age: 45

Youngest juror's age: 23

Oldest juror's age: 78