Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Michigan Supreme Court - You can't use race as a factor in Jury Selection

One would think that judges already know you can't discriminate in the jury pool based on race, but some don't seem to get the message:

The Detroit News: Michigan high court rules race can't be considered in jury picks
The Michigan Supreme Court said Monday that race cannot be a factor in jury selection as it overturned a multimillion-dollar lawsuit verdict and criticized a Wayne County judge.

Wayne Circuit Judge Michael Callahan refused to allow lawyers defending a Metro Airport shuttle bus operator to dismiss an African-American woman from a jury that set the amount the company should pay after it conceded liability for the 2003 death of a Macomb County woman.

The eight-member jury, which included three black women, awarded $14.9 million to the estate of Shirley Pellegrino and her husband, Anthony Pellegrino.

While lawyers were selecting the jury, Callahan vowed to seek "proportional representation on the juries that hear cases in this court" until he is "either removed from the bench by the disciplinary committee or ordered to have a new trial."
There's no basis in Michigan for a jury pool to be "proportional" and it is certainly not grounds for violating a party's rights and refusing a party's peremptory challenge to strike a juror.

Callahan refused to allow lawyers for Ampco Systems Parking to dismiss one of the black women using a peremptory challenge. Each side in a lawsuit is afforded numerous peremptory challenges to excuse jurors to obtain an unbiased set of fact finders.

Although Ampco's lawyers wanted to dismiss the woman because she was twice widowed and might still be grieving her mother's recent death, Callahan said he would not engage in "race baiting" even if it meant he might be in "hot water" with higher authorities. Speaking from the bench, Callahan, who is white, said he was the father of six black children.
And his children have what to do with this exacly? And indeed, how is it 'race baiting' to challenge one of three black jurors - its not like the defendant's attorney tried to remove all three.

Michigan's Supreme Court decided on a 5-2 vote Monday that "decisions to include and to exclude particular jurors must be undertaken without consideration of race." The ruling overturned an earlier Court of Appeals decision that backed Callahan's decision.
Nice to see the Supreme court get to the right result, but its sad that 2 justices dissented from a basic principle of fairness.

The court's majority made the unusual suggestion that a new judge should be assigned to oversee the second trial, and also implied Callahan's comments and actions rise to a level that could require review by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission.

"A trial court is not free to disregard rules, orders and case law with which it disagrees or to become the law unto itself," Justice Stephen Markman wrote for court's majority.

"The trial court expressly acknowledged that it was attempting to engineer the composition of the jury to reflect the 'diverse racial composition' of the community. The trial court was not free to do this under the law and constitution and by doing so, violated the constitutional right of defendant to a jury that, with regard to race, had been 'indifferently chosen.' "
When judges do not follow the law, bad things happen, so it is good to see the Michigan Supreme Court rectify this error.

No comments: