Marlyville / Fontainebleau / Broadmoor Preservation
post-Katrina and beyond...









press clipping
Suspect: jury system unfair with fewer blacks in Orleans area

08:01 PM CST on Monday, January 30, 2006

Associated Press

A suspect in a federal drug case failed to persuade a judge that the post-Katrina jury pool violates his rights because too many black people have left the region.

Mervin Spencer, 40, of New Orleans faces allegations that he twice sold crack cocaine to undercover state troopers in May 2004.

Spencer's attorney, John Craft, argued that the hurricane forced black people from the area, leaving disproportionately high numbers of blacks on the registered voter rolls, the source for prospective jurors. That means, Craft argued, that many jury notices would be mailed to addresses where black residents no longer live, those notices will be returned as undeliverable and too few blacks will be placed in the jury pool. The U.S. District Court draws jurors from 13 parishes, including Orleans and Jefferson.

Chief Judge Ginger Berrigan flatly dismissed the argument, which has arisen in several cases on the federal docket but had not yet been ruled upon by a judge. "Any underrepresentation, if it exists, was caused by natural disaster and not by any systematic flaw in the jury plan," Berrigan ruled in an order released Thursday.

Spencer, who is black, wanted the court to modify the jury selection system in light of the post-hurricane demographics, and order the jury commission to find the displaced people and arrange for anyone selected to come to New Orleans for jury duty.

"You're entitled to a jury that reflects the community you live in," said Craft, a federal public defender. "Members of the community are out of town but they're still members of the community. It's an obvious issue that has to be addressed."

The issue may also come up in Vioxx cases before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon. He is handling pretrial matters for all 4,000-plus federal lawsuits, and has scheduled several for trial.

Many attorneys consider poor people and blacks more likely than people who area well-off or white to side against corporations and for plaintiffs.

Attorneys for Evelyn Plunkett, whose husband died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx for a month and whose case is to be heard starting Feb. 6, have said they don't think the jury is likely to be representative of the Eastern District.

However, they have not said whether they plan to challenge the jury pool's makeup. The chief judge's ruling indicates that the district court would not be sympathetic.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)