Originally created 07/12/00

Judge cancels docket



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Superior Court Chief Judge A. Blenn Taylor Jr. has canceled all criminal jury trials until the Glynn County Jury Commission certifies that it has an accurate jury pool.

Chief Judge Taylor filed his order Monday, just three days after jury commissioners complained that a computer printout of the jury pool contained convicted felons, the deceased and names previously deleted.

Clerk of Court Larry S. Ellison, who maintains the jury pool and sends jury summonses, said Monday he has figured out what went wrong and corrected it.

"I want to assure the public, the judges and the jury commission that the jury box is up to date and accurate," Mr. Ellison said.

But Chief Judge Taylor said he and the other Superior Court judges agreed criminal jury trials should be canceled after they learned that the list submitted Monday by Mr. Ellison still contained errors.

"It's already acknowledged that it's at least 1 percent wrong," Chief Judge Taylor said. All jury pools must be free of errors and certified as completely accurate by jury commissions. Under state law, inaccurate jury pools are grounds for reversals of convictions.

"Until they (jury commissioners) can provide a certified jury list, I'm not going to take the risk," Chief Judge Taylor said.

Although now a computer list, the jury box gets its name from an outmoded practice of selecting jurors' names from a wooden box. Under Georgia law, appointed jury commissioners have the sole responsibility of keeping jury pools updated and balanced by race, age and gender.

Sixty criminal cases had been scheduled for next week's trial docket - a normal calendar, District Attorney Stephen Kelley said.

"Generally, two or three cases out of a docket of that size actually go to trial. The most you can ever do is about four trials a week," Mr. Kelley said.

The remainder of the cases end in plea bargains or are carried over until the next trial week, he said.

"In the short term, I don't think canceling the criminal trial week will have any effect at all because most of the cases plead out at that time anyway," Mr. Kelley said.

He predicted there could be "a little bit of a backlog in cases."

Court authorities will monitor the cases during the cancellation, he said. "We're probably going to have to increase the number of hearings just to make sure that the jail doesn't get overcrowded," Mr. Kelley said. "But if we can't have jury trials for several months, then we could run into problems."

"I hope it's not politically motivated," although it is interesting the complaints arose with the Republican primary less than two weeks away, Mr. Ellison said.

Mr. Ellison has three Republican and no Democratic opponents in his bid for re-election.