Friday, July 5, 2013

A premature trial? A legit problem. A new chief judge will try to address it

Perhaps William Beavers’ problem was that his trial came up about four months too soon. I suspect he thinks that – as he awaits sentencing in September for convictions on assorted tax-related charges.

BEAVERS: Would it have made difference
For the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois has a new chief judge, and that judge made a point of saying that he wants to do something to ensure that the juries for federal court defendants in the Chicago-area reflect a greater ethnic and racial diversity.

NOT THAT I’M saying it would have made a difference in Beavers’ case. But I’m sure the former alderman and county commissioner would find the words of Ruben Castillo to be sympathetic.

For when Castillo was sworn in as chief judge earlier this week, he told the Associated Press how he has heard throughout the years (he has been a federal judge in Chicago since 1994) about the overly white composition of federal court juries. “That’s been a sore point for all of us,” he told the wire service.

For the Northern Illinois district of federal court isn’t just Chicago; it includes Rockford and stretches all the way to the Mississippi River.

So it’s not uncommon for the overwhelming white tendency of the rural parts of the court district to create white juries for Chicago defendants.

IN THE CASE of Beavers, he had 10 white people, 1 Latino male and 1 black woman as his jury of his “peers” who decided rather quickly that his use of campaign funds to pay for his personal lifestyle – including all those trips to the casinos in Indiana – was a violation of federal tax laws.

Although a big part of Beavers’ objections earlier this year was the fact that the pool of 50 people from which his jury was picked did not include a single black man.

For Castillo, he’d like to avoid that situation because it can create the perception of a flawed, or incomprehensible, jury. Because as much as some of us would like to believe that anyone is capable of presiding over anyone else (and some of us could care less if it creates a taint), the reality is that we all have differing perceptions.

CASTILLO: Sees a problem
Including more types of people probably does increase the chances of achieving a fair trial – which is supposed to be the goal of the criminal justice process – both at the state and federal levels.

SO IT IS encouraging to hear Castillo tell the Associated Press, “I’m not only going to have diversity as a goal, but I am going to ask this court to embrace diversity.”

It would be nice to know that court systems across the nation adopt such an attitude. But I’ll settle, for now, for my home court system thinking that it needs to work harder to achieve fairness in determining the legal fate of us all.

As for Castillo himself, he is in many ways a typical Chicagoan – a native-born with parents of strong ethnic (Mexican and Puerto Rican) origins. Which may be the reason he is sympathetic to this particular issue.

The first Latino to serve as a federal judge in Chicago is now the first Latino chief judge to walk the halls of the Dirksen Building.

FOR THE PEOPLE who think that ignoring the ethnic composition of the world (or perhaps sticking to some image of what the area was like back one century ago) are the ones who create the impression of a problem.

Although, somehow, I suspect that prosecutors would have been able to sway just about any jury into believing that Beavers had managed to do something wrong – meaning he still would face sentencing come Sept. 25.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's great, a pepper gut is chief judge.