District Clerk Rhonda Barchak retired the day after Brazoria County notified the public of her jury assembly method.
“The Brazoria County Criminal District Attorney’s Office recently received information indicating irregularities may have occurred in the Brazoria County District Clerk’s Office’s assembly of jury trial panels,” Criminal District Attorney Tom Selleck wrote in a statement on August 25.
“Based on the information provided to date, the District Attorney’s Office believes jury trial panels may have been assembled in a manner inconsistent with applicable statutes and law.”
The Texas Secretary of State randomly picks potential jurors from lists of county residents that have a driver’s license or have registered to vote and sends these names to the county.
According to Barchak’s attorney, she would sort the names in these lists into residents of Pearland and residents outside of Pearland. Then, she would sort them into whites and non-whites. Barchak would use this organization method to assemble the venires.
Texas law requires jury panels to be selected randomly.
“The clerk shall randomly select the jurors by a computer or other process of random selection and shall write or print the names, in the order selected, on the jury list from which the jury is to be selected to try the case,” the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure reads.
Barchak’s attorney told Texas Monthly that this method was meant to achieve a representative sample of the county.
“The process she’s doing gives the jury a better chance of being a cross section, which is what we’re supposed to do with a jury pool,” Lewis said. “Just taking the cards and shuffling them — maybe they shuffled well, and maybe they didn’t.”
He added that Barchak did not know anything about the trials that her selected jurors would attend.
So far, the explanation hasn’t satisfied a politically broad array of local activists and politicians worried about the effects of Barchak’s method.
“It’s shameful,” activist and former Black Panther chapter leader Quanell X said.
“It’s heartbreaking, because you possibly have men in prison, and women in prison, who are only there because of a racist clerk who had stacked the deck in the jury selection process and corrupted it.”
Pearland City Councilman Luke Orlando (Position 1), a Republican, said he was “extremely concerned” about the news.
“By definition of you’re creating tranches of voters based on different characteristics, based on their race, based on their geography, that’s inherently not random,” Orlando said.
The Texas Rangers and the district attorney’s office are both conducting an investigation into the matter. If Barchak’s method is found illegal, it could taint the results of thousands of cases.
The county commissioners court held an emergency meeting to replace her on August 27, the day after she left the job. Commissioners approved Donna Starkey, selected by the district judges of Brazoria County, to fill the job until the next general election in November 2022.
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