The Montgomery Grand Jury this week issued a report recommending changes in the grand jury system, including the possibility of abolishing grand juries.
The report, signed by foreman Justin Lewis, indicated the grand jurors were frustrated by what they considered a caseload so heavy that it did not allow them to make independent investigations or closely examine cases presented to it by the Montgomery County state's attorney's office.
The report recommended bringing only the most important and controversial cases to the grand jury. "If each grand jury session was limited to a small number of significant cases, more evidence could be presented; moreover, the grand jury could have a feeling of making some actual contribution to the legal system (which in most cases the current grand jury did not) by having time for thorough discussion of weaknesses or inadequacies in cases with representatives of the State's Attorney's office," the report stated.
The report requested shorter work sessions. "We fail to understand why grand jury sessions of (five or seven months) are required. It would be more reasonable to have four three month sessions of the grand jury...."
The report recounted the development of the grand jury system in England and the United States, but said that it is currently "a process whose viability has been questioned from numerous sources. Charges have been made that grand juries are simply pawns of prosecutors' offices."
Although the tone of the report expressed frustration with the state's attorney's office, the report did not anywhere specifically say that the grand jury had been used as a pawn by State's Attorney Andrew L.Sonner or his assistants.
The report recommended that Montgomery County establish "a local auditing unit similar to the U.S.General Accounting Office to review reports and comments of previous grand juries.
Then, in capital letters, it also recommended that "SERIOUS CONSIDERATION BE GIVEN TO EITHER ELIMINATING OR MODIFYING THE GRAND JURY SYSTEM IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY."
In another section of the report, the jurors expressed concern that while they were supposed to be representative of the community, the specific members of this grand jury were wealthier, better educated and employed in a wider range of white collar and professional jobs than was the population of the county as a whole.
"(But) If we have accomplished our mission and provided a service to the community it is at least in part due to our own efforts." the report said.
Deputy State's Attorney Timothy E. Clarke, pointing out that he had not yet read the report, said he was opposed to the abolition of the grand jury system.
"We currently run 800 to 1,000 indictments a year through the grand jury," Clarke said. "If you change that system, you would have to double our staff and double the staff of the District Court, where most of these cases would go for a preliminary bearing. To abolish the grand jury system would require the revamping of the entire legal system in the county," he said.
Calven R.Sanders, administrative judge of the District Court of Montgomery County, said he thought the grand jury "was worth it. I'd be in favor of giving them money for a staff, if that's what they wanted. In Maryland the grand jury system really isn't functioning as a screen anymore, as it once did," he said, referring to its historic purpose of standing between prosecutors and members of the community.
"It's true that when a case goes before them, there's a 99 percent chance of an indictment. But the grand jury system worked once, and there may be a real need for it again. I'd be very worried about changing things. I really don't see what they're complaining about," he said.