Jury pool nearly half dry
When attorneys prepared to study the jury pool in the trial of Ivan “Gene” Lawyer this week, they found the jury pool was far smaller than they might have hoped.
Forty-two percent of the 507 juror summonses that Mesa County Jury Commissioner Rose Anne Kelley sent out for the trial came back marked undeliverable.
“For me, I can tell you it’s very frustrating,” Kelley said. “I don’t know how many (potential jurors) got summonses.”
Kelley, as with jury commissioners across the state, doesn’t actually select the jury pool. She puts in a request to the Colorado Judicial Department for the size of pool she estimates will be needed for a trial, and the Judicial Department selects those who will receive summonses from the jury wheel, a compilation of all registered voters, holders of driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards throughout the state, and records from the Colorado Department of Revenue, according the Judicial Department website.
The lists are merged, duplicates and names of deceased citizens are removed, and the resulting list is divided by county location. The department then randomly selects from among the resulting list the names of potential jurors when county jury commissioners order a jury pool.
The roots of the problem reach back to last year when the Judicial Department changed vendors in July, Judicial Department spokesman Jon Sarche said.
As a result of different techniques used by the old vendor and the new one, officials were working with a jury wheel that hadn’t been updated for about two months.
“We had thought that with weekly updates we would no longer need quarterly updates” to the wheel, as had been done by the previous vendor, Sarche said. “It did become a problem in Mesa County as you guys have seen.”
As 2011 passed into 2012 the wheel continued to be used, and each time it was, the number of potential jurors shrunk.
Then, with the Lawyer case, a large pool of potential jurors was required, but the wheel had gone untended for six months, was small, and the remaining potential jurors hadn’t been screened for new addresses.
The Judicial Department now has new data coming in for the jury wheel, and officials there will conduct quarterly, possibly bimonthly updates, as well as the weekly updates, Sarche said.
“The bottom line is we found the problem and are pretty sure we have it figured out,” he said. “We’ll know early to mid-May how well it’s working.”
Kelley said she remains skeptical.
“They tell me they have a fix,” Kelley said. “I’ll be ordering a lot extra jurors at least for a little while.”