Peer pressure

Oct 31, 2007 at 12:00 am

If Wayne County Circuit Court juries are going to be more reflective of the area's racial composition, African-Americans need to answer their jury summonses and the system needs to make it easier for people to serve, says Kym Worthy, Wayne County prosecutor.

"African-American jurors are among the fairest, the most effective and among the most introspective as well," she said Saturday at a town hall-style gathering at the United Auto Workers Dave Miller building on Detroit's east side for a discussion about current issues in Wayne County Circuit Court. "Give me an African-American juror every day of the week and I'll be very, very happy."

News Hits has opined about this issue in previous columns, most recently after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick complained the jury in the police whistleblower suit had just one Detroiter. The racial implication was clear.

But judges and attorneys, including Worthy, tell us diverse juries can't be seated if African-Americans aren't in the pool. A Wayne County Circuit Court study in 2004 showed 27 percent of those who reported for jury duty in Wayne County were African-American, which compared to 42 percent of the county's population.

At least some solutions were discussed at Saturday's gathering.

Worthy says increasing jurors' pay from its current maximum of $15 to $40 a day and offering free parking would help attract more potential jurors. If fewer employers docked pay for employees serving, that would help too, Worthy says.

"But we can't force an employer to pay a juror while they're on jury service," she says.

At least one previous problem has been remedied, says Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas. In the past, "if you received a jury questionnaire and did not return it to the jury office, your name was placed in the 'suppression file.' You were never sent a questionnaire again," she says.

Thomas, who has spoken publicly about racial imbalances in juries for years, called on Detroiters to get in the mix by returning questionnaires and showing up to circuit court when called.

"If you're going to be part of the solution, you've got to be part of the process," Thomas says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]