Who's been beating the jury duty system?
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- If you've ever been called to jury duty in Harris County you'll want to watch this. While you did your civic duty, some folks may have gotten off the hook through the buddy system.
Five-hundred-thousand people were called to jury duty in Harris County last year. Some got out of it for totally legitimate reasons, but now there are allegations some folks got out because of who they know and whey they do for a living.
"Without you, none of this works, so on behalf of the commissioners, on behalf of the judges, on behalf of anyone who benefits from the judicial system, thank you for serving," Chris Daniel said.
It's kind of early for a civics speech, but they're getting paid to listen. Big bucks -- six whole dollars -- for the entire day, just enough to pay for the parking.
"It's a huge detriment to my income coming in," Harris County resident Holly Steindle said.
And it could take days, even weeks.
"It's a kind of hassle coming out from Katy," Harris County resident Maruja Johnson said.
But it's one of those responsibilities that makes America, well, special.
"We live in a free country, and we want to keep it that way," Steindle said.
And like it or not, it's the law.
"Equal justice under the law, right? That's a concept that you like to try to keep it as close to reality as you can," Harris County resident Ed Wallison said.
But can we be honest here?
"There are a rare few who actually look forward to doing jury," Daniel said.
So is there a way we could get out of this?
"Who did you call to get out of jury duty?" we asked Kenneth Wiener.
"I just had some people I could call, that's all," Wiener said.
You've met Ken Wiener before. Until a few weeks ago, he was that righthand lieutenant to Constable Jack Abercia -- his chauffeur, errand boy and now he's indicted along with the constable on corruption charges.
Want another secret? Ken Wiener didn't have to sit in that jury assembly room all day with the rest of you. "Who did you call?" we asked Wiener
"That's none -- I don't have to say anything," he said.
"You were going to say it's none of my business?" we asked.
He didn't have to worry about doing his duty. He didn't even have to show up.
"You think it's fair to all those folks who have sit in jury duty all day that you can pick up the phone and get out of it?" we asked Wiener.
"I don't think that's fair at all. That's not what happens," he replied.
"Well then tell me what happens."
"No, I'm not going to talk to you anymore."
"Did you also get the constable and his family off jury duty?" we asked.
"No, sure didn't," he replied.
Come on lieutenant, you can tell us. Who's the connection?
But doesn't Cynthia Randle deserve to know?
"No. 1, I've been called every year, so if one citizen has to do it, I think we all should," Randle said.
She's one of 500,000 Harris County residents who will do their civic duty this year, so let's end the suspense.
Harris County Deputy Craig Bailey helped disqualify hundreds of county deputies, Houston cops, court workers and their families from the jury pool, even though the law says they get any special break from jury duty. It may have been going on for decades.
"If this how he was trained to do this job, that is not to any fault of this deputy," Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.
"Strictly my employees and the judges can exempt somebody or excuse somebody for being disqualified from jury duty," Daniel said.
"Did you help people's family get out of it?" we asked Deputy Bailey.
"Sir I cannot answer that question," Bailey responded.
"You think that's fair?"
"Sir I cannot answer that question. I'll be in direct violation of my departmental policy."
"I think it's unfair because if we have to do it they should be able to have to do it too," Johnson said.
"I don't have that kind of pull," Steindle said.
"Just in terms of appearance of doing right and wrong by the public, this is clearly inappropriate," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.
And that get-out-of-jury-duty-free card, we'll let's say you can't play it anymore.
"We want the perception to be that our guys are doing their jobs, they're ready to serve the citizens, they're ready to do their own civic duty. That's what we want to come out of this at end of the day," Garcia said.
"Anything that looks unfair, anything that appears to be prone to abuse is shut down," Daniel said.
The sheriff's office says it will audit to see if any of their lawmen got out of jury duty improperly. And we're going to follow up, just to see if they actually do it. In the meantime, we've leveled the playing field.
13 undercover, wayne dolcefino
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