Chester P. Avery, an Alexandria man who was barred from serving on a jury panel because he is blind, was allowed to join the panel yesterday, but he found the decision unsatisfactory.
The decision by Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Kent admitting Avery to the panel from which jurors are chosen applies only to Avery.
"It's a teeny tiny victory," Avery declared. "I had been hoping for a broad-gauged response which would allow all qualified handicapped persons to be jurors. This is really only a special accommodation made just for me."
Avery, 41, director of the Office of Handicapped Concerns in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, had filed a complaint with the Justice Department over his exclusion from the jury panel.
Blind persons have been excluded from jury service in Virginia since a court ruling handed down in 1853.
Judge Kent's order specifies that in any case in which Avery is called as a juror, "the Court will apprise trial counsel . . . or . . . Avery's blindness" and says that Avery could be removed from the jury by objection of attorney.
Avery may join the general jury panel this Thursday if several scheduled cases go to trial. If Avery is selected to hear a case and is not removed by either of the opposing attorney, it would be the first time in Virginia history that a blind juror participated in a case, according to several legal sources.
According to Kent, the resolution of the Avery matter was suggested in an unsolicitied letter from Victor M. Glasberg, an Alexandria attorney who is a member of the Northern Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Glasberg said he wrote to Kent after reading a story about Avery in The Washington Post, and before consulting with Avery.
The heart of the Glasberg proposal was that while blind persons would not be disqualified from jury service automatically, attorneys for opposing sides would be advised of their blindness. Kent adopted the proposal, but made it apply only to Avery. "We felt [Glasberg's] proposal was reasonable," Kent said.
Avery said yesterday he is consulting with other activits to see what actions, if any, might be taken to gain for all qualified blind people the right to sit on juries.