Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oneida County Justice?

CNY Underground points out that things don't look too good with Judge Romano having been the foreperson on the Grand Jury which indicted John Healy. Healy's lawyers are moving to dismiss the murder indictment, arguing that other jurors may have been intimidated by a Supreme Court Justice. The WKTV story on this also notes that Judge Romano was formerly a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office now prosecuting the charge.

At one time Judiciary Law §511 disqualified judges from the State's Unified Court System from serving on juries. (It also disqualified a host of other officials). Judiciary Law §511, however, no longer exists. Thus, judges are no longer exempt from this civic duty.

A defendant's ability to challenge a juror assists in ensuring that he/she will be judged by an unbiased jury. However, individuals serving on a Grand Jury are not subject to such challenge (CPL 190.20) as are jurors on a petit jury (CPL 270.15).

Unless there is reason to believe that the judge was not placed on the jury at random as required by Judiciary Law §507 (and no evidence of this has been presented), having this judge on the Grand Jury passes muster.

The court's appointment of the judge as jury foreperson (CPL 190.20(3)) would have elevated the judge's stature above her peer jurors, and could be criticized.

Everything may be according to the letter of the law . . . but what about appearances? Having a former prosecutor on a Grand Jury certainly gives an appearance of bias. Where is common sense? Is this what we citizens want Oneida County Justice to look like?

When the legislature did away with §511, they expanded the potential jury pool. Could they also have forgotten a reason why they put §511 on the books to begin with?

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