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Defense Attorneys Decry Lack of Asians on Grand Jury : Judiciary: Attempting to overturn indictments in several criminal cases, they argue in a Superior Court hearing that minority clients were denied their right to judgment by an ethnically diverse panel.

January 20, 1994|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Defense attorneys seeking to overturn criminal indictments in several high-profile cases argued Wednesday that Asians have been unfairly excluded from voluntary service on the Orange County Grand Jury.

While prosecutors and county attorneys argued that Asians are not underrepresented on the panel that brings criminal indictments, defense attorneys said their Asian and other minority clients have been stripped of their constitutional right to have an ethnically mixed jury decide their fate.

"They're a group that is growing, and the difference between their numbers in the community and their numbers on the grand jury is important," said Deputy Public Defender Denise M. Gragg, who represents one of the teen-agers accused of killing Foothill High School honor student Stuart A. Tay.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric W. Snethen argued that the grand jury system is being held to an unfair standard, since defense attorneys are using the term Asians to include numerous cultures and nationalities. In the past, Snethen has compared its use to the term Europeans.

Snethen said discrimination does not play a role in the grand jury system. County attorneys contend that the court system makes an effort to invite Asian residents to apply for the grand jury, but few take up the offer.

The hearing on the defense attorneys' complaints, which began several days ago and ended Wednesday, was a showcase for number-crunching experts who used U.S. Census figures, population data and complex mathematical formulas to prove their points.

In 1992, Asians made up 11.7% of Orange County's population, but only two Asians applied for a spot on the grand jury, according to data presented by a defense witness.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard said he will make a ruling Wednesday on the motion to overturn the indictments.

Three of the four defendants charged with the slaying of Tay on New Year's Eve, 1992, are Asian.

The legal challenge marks the latest attack on the Orange County Grand Jury. Many in the minority communities have complained about the lack of racial representation on the panel, which critics say led to a 1993 grand jury report linking immigration to a wide array of societal ills.

The report prompted outrage and helped trigger an upcoming fact-finding hearing by a panel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the treatment of minorities in Orange County.

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