A veteran African-American judge has been named to lead a panel to study whether current jury selection procedures are representative of the area's population, a criticism raised during a recent high-profile civil case.
City Judge Shirley Troutman Monday was named to head the panel and report on its findings within 90 days.
The effort was prompted, "in part," by attorney Johnnie L. Cochran's complaints during the Cynthia Wiggins civil trial that African-Americans underrepresented in the Erie County jurors pool, said State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle, administrative judge of the state's Buffalo-based eight-county Eighth Judicial District.
Doyle said today he is "still not convinced that we have a real problem" but he stressed that the Troutman committee will work to let all juror-eligible citizens know they are not excluded from the pool for any reason.
Troutman said she has already begun quiring lawyers about jury selection matters and plans a survey of lawyers in the district that she said "will help the committe to focus on what we have to do."
Cochran complained to State Supreme Court Justice Jerome Gorski that no African-Americans were seated on the jury in the racially charged case and only five were picked as prospective jurors.
"It seemed to me that there should have been more people of color on both of these panels, certainly more than five out of almost a hundred jurors," Cochran told the judge,
Doyle would not go so far as to say there is a problem in the racial mix of juries, but he said: "I believe it is essential to determine whether our jury-selection process results in a disparity along racial, ethnic or gender lines. If there is a disparity, we must ask why and what we can do to fix it."
The seven-member Troutman panel will report its findings to Doyle and the Eighth Judicial District Advisory Council, which is composed of judges, lawyers and community representatives who act as a liaison between the courts and the public on many issues.
Joining Troutman on the committee will be League of Women Voters representatives Polly Ferguson of Williamsville and Joan Photiadis of the Town of Tonawanda.
Other members are Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka, Buffalo attorneys John T. Frizzell and Linda J. Marsh, and the Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church and president of the local Baptist Ministries Conference.
Frizzell is a former president of the Erie County Bar Association, and Marsh is a former president of the local Women's Bar Association, Doyle said.
The Troutman committee will review jury selection in Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Erie County Jury Commissioner Mehrl F. King and his counterparts in the seven other counties will be consulted by the panel.
Doyle said the state court system maintains and annually updates lists of prospective jurors from the rolls of state taxpayers, registered voters, licensed drivers and applicants for or recipients of unemployment compensation, home relief and aid to families with dependent children.
The judge said prospective jurors are selected randomly from those lists as well as from lists of people who volunteer for jury service.
Cochran and Perks accepted a $2.55 million cash settlement to resolve their $150 million lawsuit.