House Bill 2150, containing language that overhauls the Texas grand jury system, is awaiting a signature from Gov. Greg Abbott after reaching final approval from the House on Sunday. The language contained in the bill would effectively scrap the controversial “pick-a-pal” method of grand jury selection in which judge-appointed commissioners selected jurors, leading to conflicts of interest. Texas is one of the last states utilizing this kind of method and this bill marks another step towards creating the preferable random pool selection process.
The bill language had a tumultuous journey to Abbott’s desk. Over two weeks ago, Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston tagged this reform language onto HB 2150 with a caveat for counties with fewer than 500,000 residents in order to ensure approval. Just last weekend, Dutton, at Abbott’s request, also removed a provision from the Senate’s version of the bill that would have considered demographics such as “race, ethnicity, sex, and age” in selection for similar reasons. In a final conference committee between the two chambers regarding the bills, parties agreed to replace the provisions in question with a requirement that the jurors be picked from a “fair cross section” of their county. On Saturday, the Senate approved the final version of the bill and the House voted 86-57 on Sunday, the second-to-last day of the session, to finally get it to the Governor’s office. Abbott had a hand in the reforming language so lawmakers such as Sen. John Whitmire of Houston are optimistic that he will approve the historic bill.
The role of the grand jury in legal proceedings has been under much scrutiny from the media in the past few months. The Houston Bar Association has voiced their concerns on this subject, concluding that an all-encompassing system can reestablish trust between the minority community and the grand jury establishment. In the United States this type of jury is given a very important task – deciding whether or not to indict those persons who are arrested for a felony or suspected of committing a crime. We have supported the continued efforts of Sen. Whitmire and Rep. Dutton of Houston and are pleased with the compromise our lawmakers have reached. We feel that the original diversity and demographics language was crucial, due to the problem of minority representation in grand juries, but are overall proud of our state for reaching this remedy.
Benny Agosto, Jr. is a partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner in Houston, Texas. For over 65 years, Abraham Watkins has successfully represented injured people and families who fall victim to catastrophes. Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to obtain just compensation their clients. For more information, please contact the office of Benny Agosto, Jr. at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner, by letter at 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, or by phone at (713) 222-7211.