Cuyahoga County Grand Jury Process Gets a Review

Jan 21, 2016

Sign carried in recent protests outside the Justice Center
Credit BRIAN BULL / WCPN

  A local presiding judge is calling for a review of Cuyahoga County’s grand jury process.  The decision follows recent scrutiny of a grand jury’s vote in the Tamir Rice case.  For Ohio Public Radio, WCPN’s Brian Bull reports.

Judge John Russo says the decision to revisit the grand jury process has been on his mind for two years, and was finalized on his meeting agenda days before Wednesday’s Cleveland Scene article.  That story raised questions about the grand jury’s voting process when it declined to bring criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers involved in the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice. 

The Grand Jury Review Committee will be headed by Judges Steven Gall and Michael Russo.  The goal is to review and implement any potential changes before the next set of grand juries are formed in May.  Cuyahoga County impanels three grand juries every four months.

Some critics, including a state legislator, have called for the grand jury process to be abolished, and replaced with preliminary hearings.  Judge John Russo says that’s not the objective of this review committee.

“More of what this committee is looking at is, is looking at our current rule here in Cuyahoga County, looking at how the process has been over the last 25 years, and saying, “Do we need to add clarification here?  Do we need to add a local rule here?”  I think that’s really what we’re looking at, not at, “Should it be abolished?”, and “Should we start a new process?” If that were to be done, that’d have to be on a statewide basis.”

Russo says calls for transparency in grand jury proceedings which are confidential is also a matter for state lawmakers.  He adds that recommendations from the grand jury review committee will include public input.