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One day four years ago, recalled Phillip Cosby, head of a Kansas City anti-pornography group, a friend told him about an arcane state law: Kansas residents can form grand juries through petitions. It was a fateful day. Cosby’s organization, the Kansas City office of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, has since collected petitions for grand juries to investigate various obscenity and pornography charges. Suddenly, grand juries have emerged in Kansas counties that have not had them for decades. “More and more prosecutors have a sense that nobody cares about obscenity laws so they are not going to file charges,” Cosby said. “We don’t believe their perception is correct so we need to demonstrate to prosecutors there is still a number of people that do care about obscenity laws.” During the past three years, Cosby said his organization helped form six grand juries by collecting more than 30,000 signatures. Sixteen pornography outlets have been indicted and are awaiting trial as a result, he said. 99 indicted Robert Hecht, the district attorney for Shawnee County, Kan., said a 15-citizen county grand jury that convened last year through a petition triggered by Cosby’s group met 15 times and returned indictments against 99 defendants, including cases involving homicide, sex crimes, burglaries and obscenities. Through its questioning, the grand jury sometimes developed information that law enforcement overlooked, resulting in more serious charges than initially proposed, Hecht said. “Grand juries are a very valuable tool in law enforcement because it gives us investigative access to records, testimony of witnesses, medical records and access to DNA without having first to accuse anyone of a crime,” he said. Hecht said there are other benefits to taxpayers. Because cases resulting from grand jury indictments don’t have preliminary hearings, he estimated they saved 110 to 135 days of a judge’s time that would have been required if they were filed by complaint. In Kansas, a grand jury can be convened only by a majority of judges in a jurisdiction or a citizen petition. Still, Al Bandy, the district defender for Shawnee County, said not holding preliminary hearings can have a downside. “That’s certainly an opportunity for you and your client to see a significant part of the case against you,” he said. Susan Brenner, a professor of law at University of Dayton School of Law who runs a Web site about grand juries, said that only six states allow grand juries by petition: Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Oklahoma and New Mexico have constitutional provisions for grand juries by petition. There are statutory requirements in the other states, she said. The minimum number of signatures required for a grand jury varies from state to state. Trent Baggett, a former district attorney who is now the assistant executive coordinator of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, said that because grand juries have a lot of control, they can sometimes question witnesses about things that are not relevant to the case. Still, the right to form a grand jury by petition can be a useful tool, he said. “Usually it’s a result of perhaps disgruntled citizens who feel that something is wrong with the system and they don’t feel they are getting a fair shake,” Baggett said. Joel-lyn McCormick, director of the multicounty grand jury unit for the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General, said she is aware of three counties that currently have grand juries as a result of citizen petitions. “There are times when there are none, but this happens to be a time where citizens are using their power to petition and seek county grand juries to investigate concerns,” she said. The district attorney in Kiowa County, Okla., did not return a call for comment. But a local news report said a citizens’ grand jury will convene there on Sept. 10 to investigate a grandmother’s allegations that her granddaughter was sexually abused and the authorities did nothing to stop it.

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