Cuyahoga grand jury has gripes about its role

CLEVELAND (AP) - A Cuyahoga County grand jury, after handing down hundreds of indictments, also had a few charges for the criminal justice system.

The jurors felt unfairly pressured by prosecutors to bring indictments and also complained that the sheer number of cases made thoughtful deliberation nearly impossible.

The grand jurors raised the complaints in a report to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court after their jury service ended in December.

The grand jury's function is to be a check on prosecutors' power to file criminal charges.

"When somebody comes up with allegations that question the integrity of the system, we have to look at it," said Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman.

The six-page report praised prosecutors' hard work and preparation. But it also attacked what grand jurors viewed as serious flaws.

One assistant prosecutor told jurors if they refused to indict some suspects, he could receive poor evaluations from his supervisors, wrote Dorothy McCombs, of Cleveland, the grand jury's deputy foreman.

She wrote that the prosecutors also suggested that any rejected cases could be brought to another grand jury, which made the jurors feel as though their role "was strictly a token one."

McCombs wrote in the report that jurors felt overwhelmed by the number of cases they reviewed, many of them low-level felonies for drug possession. Over 30 days, the grand jury heard 1,532 cases and testimony from more than 1,000 witnesses. They refused to indict in 78 cases.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason said assistant prosecutors who had worked with the grand jury did nothing unethical.

Mason said prosecutors are supposed to secure indictments, but that "nobody should feel pressured." He said he does not evaluate his staff based on their success with the grand jury and that his policy is to refile cases with a grand jury only if investigators find new evidence.

In an interview Wednesday, McCombs told The Plain Dealer she is sticking to the issues raised in her report, which was reviewed by all the other jurors and the jury foreman, William Monroe, a local lawyer and former Euclid law director.

"That report wouldn't have gone out under my signature if I didn't believe it was true," Monroe said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)