Days after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick reiterated complaints about the racial makeup of juries in Detroit’s Wayne County Circuit Court, activists gathered yesterday to criticize Michigan’s top court for failing to fix what they say is a broken system, reports the Detroit News. The Detroit court is working on reforms to attract more minorities to juries. It has drawn flack — and legal challenges — because 26 percent of jurors are black, even though they comprise 41 percent of the county’s 2 million residents. The Michigan Supreme Court waded into the issue Friday but didn’t address whether the lack of diversity violates constitutional guarantees to trial by juries of peers.
Kilpatrick took up the issue after a mostly suburban jury of 11 whites and one African-American ruled in favor of police officers who filed a whistle-blower suit alleging retaliation for investigating allegations of misdeeds by the mayor and his staff. The verdict led to an $8.4 million settlement that has ignited the biggest scandal of Kilpatrick’s career. The settlement kept secret text messages that appeared to reveal a sexual relationship with a staffer that the mayor denied under oath. Slightly more than 40 percent of Wayne County’s population is black, yet about 70 percent of all jurors are white in the Circuit Court, where major criminal cases and lawsuits are decided, said a study of 2004 and 2005 data by the Virginia-based National Center for State Courts.