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Defense lawyers in California are challenging methods used by vendors to compile juror lists for the courts, saying they keep certain demographic groups out of the jury box. While a pending case has put the issue into the spotlight in California, lawyers said courts throughout the country regularly use these third-party vendors. “I think it will have a far more reaching impact beyond California,” said Carmela Simoncini, a member of the amicus committee for the California Public Defenders Association, which has filed a brief in a pending case over the issue. The case involves accused murderer Mark Jeffery Brown, whose trial is scheduled to start in July. People v. Brown, No. SCD174976 (San Diego Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). Like many courts in California, the San Diego Superior Court supplies lists of potential juror names originating from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Registrar of Voters to a private company, Encino, Calif.-based Jury Systems Inc. The company then eliminates any duplicates and creates a single list it sends back to the court before jury summonses are sent out. Groups excluded? But Don Levine, Brown’s lead counsel, said the company uses a digital coding system that can leave certain groups out so the jury pool does not reflect the community at large. “We had suspicions that there were cognizable groups being excluded; in this case we believe it was Hispanic persons,” said Levine, a San Diego solo practitioner. “Part of the reason we believe this is happening is because of the outsourcing [to Jury Systems Inc.].” Levine said he believes this happens because of mistakes that permanently exclude people who should only be excluded temporarily-such as someone who has served in the last 12 months. He said he also doesn’t believe there is oversight to check whether jurors who are summoned actually respond to their summons. The issue only surfaced recently because the system has never been challenged before, Levine said. Michael Roddy, the San Diego Superior Court jury commissioner, said Jury Systems Inc. has served the court well for years and allowed it to trim costs. At one point, the court realized that 226,000 names were left off the list of 1.2 million names, but the mistake came from the court, not the company, he said. The problem has been fixed since, Roddy said, adding there is no reason to believe some groups are being left out. “Our obligation is to summon jurors throughout the community in a random, even-handed manner,” he said. “We believe very firmly our system does that, especially in light of the corrections and changes we made last year.” But in September, a trial judge granted Brown’s motion for discovery, which seeks information about the juror-selection system. Brown’s lawyers have started working on a month-long demographic survey of the jury pool ordered by the judge to help examine the issue, Levine said. Calls to Jury Systems Inc. were not returned. Melissa Woo, a lawyer in the San Diego office of Riverside, Calif.-based Best Best & Kriegler who is representing Roddy and the court, declined comment due to pending litigation. In court documents, Woo has argued that asking the jury commissioner to disclose DMV source lists is a violation of civil code; that Brown has not showed that an unrepresentative pool of jurors resulted from the process used to generate juror lists; and that the information being sought is sensitive and should not be made available to the defense in a capital murder prosecution. For example, lists of potential jurors include their addresses and other personal information, she wrote. Attorneys join in Levine said attorneys for two other cases have joined Brown’s motion for discovery, and attorneys in about 30 other California cases in various stages have been looking into joining the motion. Jury Systems Inc. contracts with about 400 counties throughout the country so it is likely the case will have impact well beyond the state’s borders, Levine said. A growing number of courts nationwide rely on private companies for some part of their jury services. In Massachusetts, which has a centralized jury system, juror lists are compiled in-house but a mailing company sends out notices and summonses, said Pamela Wood, the jury commissioner. Hawaii has saved time and money by using two vendors for jury services for about eight years, said Peter Daniels, a spokesman for the Hawaii State Judiciary. New York’s state courts will begin outsourcing the printing and mailing of their summonses next year, said Ann Skove, staff attorney for the National Center for State Courts.

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