Champaign County Board Approves Committee to Study Jury Selection

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19, 2008, for those fighting for reform of the criminal justice
system in Champaign County. By a unanimous vote,
the Champaign County Board appointed the Citizens
Advisory Committee on Jury Selection.
The committee, made up of citizens, board members,
and local criminal justice officials, is intended to address
the racial disparities documented to exist in Champaign
County. For several years the Courtwatch study conducted
by the League of Women Voters has shown that while
African Americans make up 56% of defendants, they represent
7% of the jury pool.
The 16 members of the committee include: Pius
Weibel, Matt Gladney, Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis,
State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, head Public Defender Randall
Rosenbaum, Courts Administrator Roger Holland, Joan
Miller of the League of Women Voters, Aaron Ammons,
Patricia Avery, William Brown, Lorraine Cowart, Brian
Dolinar, Deloris Henry, Barbara Kessel, Jenny Putman, and
Patrick Thompson.
While speaking in support of the Advisory Committee,
County Board member Steve Beckett also defended
his proposal to cut two committees the Transportation
Committee and the Justice and Social Services Committee,
the very committee that oversees the jury Citizens
Advisory Committee on Jury Selection. This was a cost
cutting measure that had to be made in tough economic
times, he claimed.
Belden Fields expressed his shock over the proposed
cuts. He pointed out that the chairs of both the committees,
Matt Gladney and Lorraine Cowart, are minorities and
this would send the wrong message to African Americans.
I spoke to remind the County Board of the recent
deaths in the county jail. Without another check on the
criminal justice system, there is the prospect of a law suit
that could drain the county of money for legal defense or a
costly settlement. There is currently a law suit pending for
the death of Janet Hahn in 2007, claiming that she
received poor medical treatment at the Champaign County
jail for her diabetes and died as a result.
Beckett responded by saying that members of the public
were “inadvertently misrepresenting” his proposal. In
collaboration with the League of Women Voters, Beckett
also a Law Professor at the University of Illinois provided
students to help conduct the Courtwatch study. Now that
his own study has shown that gross inequalities exist in
the jury selection process, he has been forced to address
the issue.
Already, the right-wing News-Gazette has editorialized
against the Citizens Committee, commenting that the
“extreme views” of some of its members would keep them
from working in a “cooperative fashion” (2/26/09). In
attempt to further slander the committee, the newspaper
brought up that some of its members had been “charged or
currently face criminal charges in Champaign County.”
It is now up to the Citizens Committee to find out a way
to ensure that defendants will have a “jury of one’s peers.”

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