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State lawmakers will hold hearing on bill to diversify jury pools

| Friday, Sept. 30, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania legislators will consider a plan during a public hearing next week in Oakland to help local courts make sure blacks are fairly represented in jury pools.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing Monday at the University of Pittsburgh to discuss a proposed law that would give county courts computer lists of people who pay state or local taxes or receive welfare payments each year.

Those lists -- stripped of all information except name and address -- would be used to fill gaps in the driver's license and voter records that courts now use to determine who can be called for jury duty.

"Diversity on a jury pool is very important to make sure that individuals have their appropriate day in court," said state Sen. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, minority chairman of the committee. "If we cannot get a jury of their peers to adjudicate their cases, the system's not running properly."

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported in 2002 that people in black neighborhoods in Allegheny County were only half as likely to get summoned for jury duty as people in white neighborhoods. Although 11 percent of county adults were black, only 4 percent of people serving jury duty were black, the Trib reported.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings require that jury pools reflect a "fair cross-section" of the community.

Legislators subsequently ordered a statewide study of the issue, which found the same problem. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas began supplementing its jury pools last year with extra jurors from neighborhoods with large minority populations.

The county's two elected jury commissioners, whose job was to maintain lists of eligible jurors and summon them randomly for jury duty, were part of a row office consolidation measure that passed in May. Jean Milko and Allan Kirschman will be replaced by an appointed court records director when their terms expire this year.

Monday's public hearing will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the William Pitt Union ballroom.

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