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Judge: City can check potential jurors’ rap sheets in false arrest trial

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The City of Chicago will check the arrest records of potential jurors before an upcoming civil trial involving allegations against police, after a federal judge said Thursday he would allow it.

U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly made clear though that he would only let lawyers challenge jurors based on those rap sheets during jury selection and not once the trial is underway.

City Corporation Counsel Mara Georges was present at the hearing at Kennelly’s request, but did not testify.

The move comes after lawyers for the city last week flagged the background of a juror in another civil trial also involving false arrest allegations against Chicago police.

The juror – one of only two African American jurors on the panel — was later tossed because he said he had no arrest history but his rap sheet showed he had eight prior arrests, according to city officials. City lawyers acted on “instinct” and checked on that juror, who was removed once the trial was already underway, Chicago Law Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said.

Jeffrey Granich, the attorney representing the plaintiff in the trial involving the tossed juror as well as next week’s trial, had asked that city lawyers be blocked from using police computer systems to research the backgrounds of potential jurors once the trial is under way.

Granich’s client, Jimmie Butler, is going to trial before Kennelly on claims he was falsely arrested and is charging other misconduct against Chicago police officers.

Checking out jurors’ backgrounds has at times been controversial in federal court. Some judges have expressly banned the practice. In 2006, it nearly caused a mistrial in the case of former Gov. George Ryan, after two jurors were tossed in the midst of deliberations for failing to disclose their backgrounds.

“I think it’s wrong,” Granich said. “I don’t think because we have all of this electronic information that now it’s open game on jurors.”

Hoyle said the city “infrequently” runs rap sheets of jurors and does not plan to make a practice of it. She said the rap sheet is limited to arrests and not a full background inquiry that checks the validity of every question answered on a jury questionnaire.

Hoyle said running a rap sheet is relevant in false arrest cases but would be too cumbersome to do routinely.

“It’s not something we plan to do in every case,” Hoyle said.

Contributing: Lark Turner

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