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Glynn Jury Pool in a Mess
Clerk of Court Blames Computer Problems
Source: The Florida Times-Union Publication date: 2000-07-08
BRUNSWICK -- With criminal jury trials scheduled in just over a week, Glynn County's pool of jurors contains convicted felons, the dead and people who are no longer residents, the Glynn County Jury Commission said yesterday.
With three Superior Court judges listening, the four members of the commission complained yesterday that Clerk of Court Larry Ellison's office has not made changes to the jury pool that they ordered. Ellison responded that he believes a computer glitch caused the problem and that the problem should be solved by next week without causing any court delays.
The four jury commissioners each maintain portions of the jury pool and are responsible for adding new people and deleting those who die, are convicted of felonies or move away. Those changes should be reflected on a master computer list called a jury box that gets its name from the outdated practice of randomly selecting jurors from slips of paper kept in a box.
The juror commissioners said their lists don't match those maintained as the jury box in Ellison's office.
Ellen Woodside said she had worked on the commission 18 months but none of her changes ended up in the juror pool.
"All the dead people are back in the jury box," she said. "All the felons are back in the jury box."
Pat Winburn, deputy chairman of the Jury Commission, said he believes the jury pool contains names that were never submitted by the commission. Winburn added he could not certify the jury box as being correct.
Under Georgia law, the chairman of a jury commission must certify a jury pool as being correct and balanced by race, age and gender. To err in those areas or to have a jury pool that is in other ways incorrect can result in the reversal of convictions.
Chief Judge A. Blenn Taylor Jr., Judge James R. Tuten and Judge Amanda F. Williams sat in on the meeting between Ellison and the commission. All were clearly disturbed by the possibility of an incorrect jury list.
Taylor said questions about the jury box could subject jury verdicts to appeals, including some past death penalty cases.
Taylor wondered if the jury pool had been flawed in the past to the point that some death penalty cases could be overturned on appeal.
District Attorney Stephen Kelley said regardless of whether the mistakes are human error, computer error or a database problem, it must be fixed.
"We've got a trial calendar coming up," he said.
Ellison said he will get a computer programmer in his office next week so that he can get the boxes in agreement. As to the jury box containing names not submitted by the Jury Commission, Ellison said he never did anything without the commission's approval, an assertion Winburn dismissed as "hogwash."
Taylor told the jury commissioners that neither he nor any of the other judges could give them legal advice.
But Taylor did tell them that Ellison works for them, not the other way around.
"I'm ordering the commission to get this straightened out," the chief judge said. "All I want is an accurate, correct, legal jury list."
Ellison said he is hopeful he can resolve any computer problems early next week, giving him plenty of time to select jurors for upcoming criminal trials.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), July 11, 2000
Update from Brunswick, GA (Glynn County)
Report released on jury lists, computers
By ROB ASBELL
News Staff Writer
The Superior Court Clerk's office kept three different jury lists on three different computers, one of which was available to anyone who entered the Glynn County Courthouse.
That was the finding of a Glynn County Information Technology report completed Friday and obtained by The News Monday.
The report was written by two computer specialists who analyzed data taken from computers seized from the office of Clerk of Superior Court Larry Ellison last week.
The report was delivered to Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge A. Blenn Taylor Jr.'s office after he and Superior Court judges Amanda Williams and James R. Tuten Jr. ordered technicians to seize computers from the court clerk's office.
The order was issued Thursday after the judges learned the master list of jurors could be accessed by the general public. The jury list is supposed to be kept confidential.
In the report, the computer specialists detailed events surrounding the confiscation of computers from the court clerk's office and files found on the computers.
Five computers were taken from Ellison's office: three on Thursday -- belonging to Jury Manager Jo Ann Simpson, bookkeeper Gail Chandler and the computer from the jury assembly room -- and two more on Friday that were listed as Gail2 and JuryC.
Technicians also looked at computers used by Chief Deputy Clerk Robin McGregor and office clerks Linda Ramsey and Sherry Boyd to determine if they contained information about the jury list.
Only Ms. Boyd's contained jury information and those files were copied through the network by Information Technology.
Four of the computers contained the jury package software and the program to run it.
Two of the computers -- Jo Ann Simpson's and JuryC -- were shared on a local network.
The JuryC computer required a three-digit password to enter and a two- digit password to access the jury program.
"It took me less than 10 minutes to access them both, proving that someone with reasonable computer knowledge could gain access to that computer and the program and systems running on it from the (inter office network)," computer specialist Jason Bolin concluded in the report.
Jo Ann Simpson's computer and the jury assembly computer were accessible through the network with no password.
The jury assembly computer, kept in the jury assembly room on the second floor of the courthouse, was accessible to anyone who walked into the room, which was usually kept open.
In addition, the County Commission frequently meets in the room, attracting large crowds at times.
"The computer was also kept in the jury assembly room where people have access to come and go as they please, with no password protection to stop someone from sitting down at it and tampering with it," Bolin stated in his report to Taylor.
"I know this because I myself have been over there four or five times in the past two weeks and gained access to the room as well as the computer without a key when no one else was there."
Bolin concluded his report by stating he found the jury list and the programs to manage it on three computers. He found that the jury data on each was different and had been modified at different times.
Ellison, who refused to release the report to the media, issued a statement Monday morning.
"I wasn't invited to see the most recent episode of the courthouse soap opera in which a county employee with access to the courthouse computer was said to have breached security of the jury records," he said in the statement. "Was this because I would have given a critique that would have ruined chances for a daytime Emmy?
"Remember that no one has identified a single ineligible person called to serve on a jury."
Criminal jury trials in Glynn County have been canceled since July 10 when problems with the jury list were first discovered.
-- Doris (email@example.com), August 11, 2000.