Cuyahoga County's Grand Jury Process To Be Reviewed, Possibly Changed

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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

A local presiding judge today called 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. 

But Judge John Russo says the move is not in response to recent events. He says rather, 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. 

“No, it was not the reason why I formed the committee, it was not a reaction to that news article that went out,” he says. “In fact, my meeting was at 12 o’clock, and the meeting had concluded at about 1:10pm or 1:15pm I think even before the article was posted. So…to be fair, it is something that now that’s out there that we’ll continue to look at.” 

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, “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.

Grand jury proceedings are secret and critics have called for more transparency.  Russo says that’s a matter for state lawmakers.

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