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Jury procedures left in limbo by error in law

 
Published Oct. 2, 1991|Updated Oct. 14, 2005

The people who wrote the new state law on jury selection had a lot of good ideas, supporters say. But turning their ideas into reality may be quite another matter. There's a big problem with the law, according to local officials who have to put it into effect.

The bill was supposed to widen the pool of potential jurors. Instead of using voter rolls, as they do now, county court clerks were supposed to pick names from driver's license lists. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Simple enough, you say?

Apparently not, because the law doesn't tell the state bureaucracy to hand over the new list to the court clerks until Jan. 1, 1993, a full year later.

That has court clerks and other local officials stumped. What are they supposed to do for the year in between, they ask _ not pick any juries?

"This is crazy," said Kurt Browning, the supervisor of elections in Pasco County.

The idea for the law not only was to widen the pool of prospective jurors but to remove an excuse that some people use for not registering to vote.

Straightforward as it seems, the law has met with stiff resistance from many court clerks, who say it will be too expensive and time-consuming to use driver's license rolls. On the other hand, many local supervisors of elections supported the law, because they want more people to register to vote.

One of the law's sponsors says the controversy might be a continuation of the debate over the bill.

"I think some of it may well be a tempest in a teapot," said Rep. Jim Hill, R-Jupiter.

Not necessarily, say the supervisors. There could be a real legal problem with continuing to choose jurors from voter registration rolls after Jan. 1, 1992.

"It's amazing to me it can get through the committee process and through the Legislature and nobody recognizes or even finds a problem with the effective date," said Browning, president-elect of the state association of elections supervisors. "If it was going to be such a big problem, how come it wasn't looked at more intensely before they passed the bill?"

Not to worry, though. The Legislature is likely to take up the issue again when it meets early next year.