Metro-East News

August 6, 2014

Allegation: Madison County jury commissioner harassed foes

A Granite City man believes it was more than coincidence that his family members and a friend were summoned for jury duty amid a neighborhood feud with the woman responsible for assembling jurors in Madison County Circuit Court.

Charles McCoy and his wife have been involved in a neighborhood dispute for the past few years with the court's jury commissioner, Linda Murray. The dispute, involving property lines and surveillance cameras, resulted in the parties filing court pleadings against each other. In one such filing, McCoy alleges that Murray manipulated the juror-pool selection process by summoning his wife, his daughter and their neighbor-friend for jury duty.

"Mrs. Murray is the jury commissioner, and I believe if jurors are selected at random it is highly unlikely for three people that live on the same street, not to mention the same household, to be selected if the system is set up for random selection. This is only after a verbal disagreement with Mrs. Murray," McCoy stated in a petition filed in June 2012, seeking a no-contact order against Murray.

Murray has not been at work since last week. Reached by phone Wednesday, she said the reason for her absence is "just a personnel matter." She referred a reporter to her attorney for additional comment, but the attorney was not immediately available.

Chief Judge David Hylla, on the allegation that the juror-selection process was compromised, said in an interview: "Manipulating the jury process is an extremely serious allegation. I can't tell you how much I consider that of the utmost importance."

Hylla declined to say whether the allegation is linked to a criminal investigation underway at the courthouse. Last week, State's Attorney Tom Gibbons filed a petition seeking appointment of an outside prosecutor to handle a case that is being investigated by Edwardsville Police.

"I can't confirm or deny it because there's an ongoing criminal investigation," Hylla said. "There is an ongoing criminal investigation and ongoing labor-management issues that don't allow me to discuss the details of the matter as much as I would love to."

He added: "I am doing everything in my power to protect the integrity of the jury system in Madison County."

McCoy declined to be interviewed. His attorney, David Fahrenkamp, said the McCoys just want to put the matter behind them.

In January 2013, the McCoys took their allegation to the office of the court's administrator. In an email, also contained in the court file, the McCoys said one of the McCoy family members was chosen for jury duty in August 2011, one was chosen in September 2011, and then their neighbor-friend was chosen in October 2011.

"I feel that this could be jury tampering," the McCoys stated in the email. "I feel that this was a form of intimidation created by Linda Murray, using her position with the Madison County court system."

The court administrator, in a response to the couple 10 days later, said their allegation was without merit.

"I have thoroughly looked into this matter ... and have determined that all procedures and protocols were followed in the juror selection process as to which you have made inquiries," wrote Teri Pichhioldi, the court administrator.

Pichhioldi could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The jury commissioner is an employee of the courts. The jury commissioner's job is to compile a pool of potential jurors, chosen randomly using voter registrations, driver's licenses and state IDs.

Potential jurors have to report to the courthouse when juries are being selected. Not all of them end up on a jury. Using a pool of potential jurors, the judge and the lawyers ask the potential jurors questions about their beliefs and backgrounds, and whittle the pool down to 12 actual jurors and a few alternates.

It's unclear whether the McCoys or their neighbor-friend actually ended up serving on a jury for a trial.

Gibbons, in his petition for an outside prosecutor for the case that Edwardsville Police are investigating, did not name the target of the probe. But Gibbons' petition stated that his office has a potential conflict of interest "due to this individual's job duties" in the courthouse, and because "county employees may be witnesses in the case."

Investigators removed items from a county office last week as part of the investigation.

Gibbons on Wednesday said he could not comment because the investigation is ongoing.

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