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Skelton: Why widen juror pool beyond citizens?

  • Potential jurors receive instructions in the assembly room at the Sonoma County courthouse. (The Press Democrat, 2007)

Bills are cascading out of the Legislature in free-fall as lawmakers race to adjournment for the year, most measures headed for the governor with little debate.

It's the annual sprint to “do something” — to make a mark, regardless of how faint.

Not all the bills, however, are as innocuous as they're treated.

One such measure, granted final passage last week by the state Assembly, would substantially change California's court system by allowing noncitizen legal immigrants to serve on juries.

Nowhere else in America is a noncitizen permitted to be a juror — not in any state, not in any federal court.

The bill, AB 1401, was discussed on the Assembly floor for only seven minutes before being sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on a party-line vote, 48 to 28, with most Democrats in favor, all Republicans opposed.

It often amazes me how issues that really shouldn't have a partisan hue wind up being voted on as if they're either blue or red.

There's no indication how the Democratic governor feels about opening up juries to noncitizens, or even if he has thought about it.

In the Assembly, the presiding Democrat initially called for the vote even before any opponent could speak.

But freshman Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, insisted.

“What is the problem that we're trying to solve?” Chávez asked. “Is there a shortage of people offering to serve on juries?” Couldn't be that, Chávez said, reporting that 6 million Californians showed up for jury duty last year and that 165,000 were chosen.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee that sponsored the bill, said the measure was about making jury pools more inclusive.

He said that noncitizen legal immigrants already can be judges.

But later I called a staffer, who couldn't tell me how many noncitizen judges there are. I can't imagine a governor appointing a noncitizen to the bench, or one getting elected over any citizen rival.

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