A Waller County judge who helped choose grand jurors to consider the evidence in Sandra Bland's death is not happy about the state's new grand jury selection process, saying it unfairly puts too much of the selection process on judges.
"I remain convinced that the Texas Legislature has given us a law that is not only unworkable but is fraught with avenues of abuse," state District Judge Albert McCaig Jr. wrote in an Aug. 21 letter to state Sen. John Whitmire about the new law, which ends the controversial "pick-a-pal," or "key man," grand jury system.
On Sept. 1, House Bill 2150, sponsored in the Senate by Whitmire, D-Houston, went into effect. It ended the less-than-random key man system of grand jury selection that is used in some counties. Under that old system, judges could appoint a commissioner, or key man, to select grand jurors who would then meet in secret to decide whether there is sufficient evidence in a criminal case to issue an indictment against a defendant. The system was criticized as being less than fair to minorities.
McCaig, together with the district attorney in Waller County, used the new random system to choose 12 grand jurors to hear evidence in the July 23 death of Sandra Bland, who died three days after she was arrested for an improper lane change in Prairie View. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Harris County medical examiner's office, but the case is being considered by a grand jury to determine if there could be any other cause for her death.
McCaig, who did not respond to requests for interviews about his three letters to Whitmire, complained that the new system does the exact opposite of what it set out to do: make grand jury selection more impartial.
According to McCaig's first letter, the judge worries that he has to select 12 grand jurors based on what he called "seemingly subjective standards of race, ethnicity, sex and age."
"There are far too many subject areas of qualification involved which allows the judge to hand pick a grand jury," McCaig wrote.
Whitmire fired back in two letters of his own that the new way of selecting grand jurors was vetted by prosecutors and judges before the final law was crafted.
"I strongly disagree with the conclusions you have reached and presented in your letters," Whitmire wrote to McCaig on Tuesday. "The law was developed by those who will have to use it — judges, district attorneys, trial attorneys and interested citizens — through four public committee hearings, two floor debates and constant communication with those interested parties who will have to use the law moving forward."
Grand jurors in Waller County are expected to begin hearing evidence in the Sandra Bland case next month, according to news reports.