Amid frustration over Tensing case, activists call for jury pool reform in Ohio

Hamilton County judge agrees: Ohio should change
Posted at 5:04 PM, Jul 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-19 17:47:58-04

CINCINNATI -- Activists want reform to the judicial system after two juries failed to make up their minds about Ray Tensing.

Even Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters is frustrated.

"It's the best system in the world," he said, "but it's imperfect."

Deters tried Tensing two times for killing Sam DuBose two years ago. Both ended when jurors deadlocked on the charges, murder and voluntary manslaughter.

One reform might be expanding the jury pool. A retired judge argues the change isn't needed.

Ohio uses only voter registration lists to summon prospective jurors to the courthouse. Kentucky and Indiana go two steps further, using lists of drivers' licenses and state identification cards, as well as tax returns.

RELATED: DuBose family may never get apology from Tensing

Dorothy Smooth, executive director of the Urban League's Community Police Partnering Center, knows widening the parameters could make juries more reflective of their communities. The prospective jury pool could pull from drivers' licenses and even the phone book, she said.

"It's important because a jury of my peers needs to look like me," Smoot said.

Melba Marsh, presiding judge of Hamilton County's Common Pleas Court, wants to include the names of people filing tax returns.

"How many people are going to be filing their income tax? Everybody's going to be filing income tax. How many people are going to be looking for their refunds?" Marsh said. "That list is going to be up-to-date and accurate. "

Norbert Nadel, a former Hamilton County Common Pleas judge, said he believes the system "doesn't need fixing."

"We've been doing it this way for centuries and the system works," Nadel said. "Every once in a while, a verdict will come out that some people don't like, and I hear the same thing all the time -- 'Let's change the rules now.'"

Marsh insists a larger pool generates a better judicial system.

"The whole idea about bringing diversity -- the young, the old, black and white -- into the system, I think that's what the goal is and what we should be looking at," Marsh said.

Education also is critical, Smoot said: People need to know what to do when they're called for jury service -- and why it matters. They also need help with barriers that might prevent them from taking part in their civic duty.

"If I make $10 or less an hour and I miss work, often time those positions don't pay for someone to serve on the jury," Smoot said.

The Urban League is sponsoring three work sessions next week as a follow-up to its "Beyond the Trial" forum:

Tuesday, July 25
5:30 to 7 p.m.
Topics: Voter registration, jury pool and use of civic power

Wednesday, July 26
5:30 to 7 p.m.
Topics: Racism and integration

Thursday, July 27
5:30 to 7 p.m.
Topics: Education and police-community relations/training

Anyone who wants to participate should RSVP to or call 513-559-5450. All meetings will be at the Urban League, 3458 Reading Road.

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