CINCINNATI — With only registered voters eligible for jury duty in Hamilton County, critics argue that because the majority of jurors are white, juries here are not representative of the county's population and prevent people from getting a fair trial.
Ohio State Senator Cecil Thomas, a Democrat representing Cincinnati, said using data from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles would add more names to the list of available jurors.
“Why are we, in Hamilton County, limiting (jury selection) to voters?” Thomas asked. “There are a lot of people that get purged from the voter rolls for whatever reason.”
He believes that the BMV can provide names of those adults with driver's licenses and ID cards, which would give attorneys more options when selecting juries.
“We haven't been paying attention for years to the jury selection process, and it needs some serious reform,” Thomas said.
Hamilton County Presiding Judge Charles Kubicki said through the existing process, the jury commissioner takes the names and ZIP codes of everyone registered to vote here and sends them to a software company in California.
That company randomly selects 60,000 people, and the county uses that to randomly select people to show up for jury duty.
“I'm satisfied that it is random, but I want to make sure that it is resulting in representative and inclusive juries. That's the bottom line,” Kubicki said.
Last year, Kubicki created a commission tasked with reviewing the process and suggesting any changes, but Thomas said such a commission is unnecessary.
“There is no need to have a commission to just add more individuals to the selection process,” he said.
Thomas introduced Senate Bill 15 in February 2019, which would require the Hamilton County jury commissioner to provide a new jury list every year, including names of registered voters and people enrolled with the BMV.
“Then you would have a much broader pool to select from,” Thomas said.
Montgomery County did it back in 2018, when the Director of Case Management Mary Kay Stirling told WCPO that it increased the potential juror pool by 42%.
Stirling said the age of those chosen is younger, with more people age 18 to 29, but she said jury diversity there has not changed significantly.
During a time when protesters demand criminal justice reforms around the country and Hamilton County, Thomas said the current climate makes him want to push harder for change.
“What better time as you just indicated, when we're talking about being more fair, we're talking about being more transparent,” he said.
To combine the BMV and registered-voter lists, the California company the county uses would have to do some extra work to eliminate duplicate names that show up on both lists. That process would cost taxpayers more money, but the jury commissioner does not know exactly how much at this time.
Thomas' bill is in a Senate committee now, and it is unclear when senators will debate it.
Read the full bill in the viewer below.