PRESS RELEASE

 
New York State 
Unified Court System 

Hon. Jonathan Lippman 
Chief Administrative Judge

Contact: David Bookstaver, 
Communications Director 
Mai Yee, Assistant Director 
(212) 428-2500 

Release: May 10, 1999

 
 
 Grand Jury Project Urges Major New Reforms of 
 New York’s Grand Jury System
NEW YORK—Six years after the Jury Project launched systemwide reforms of the trial jury system in New York State, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman today released the report of the Grand Jury Project—a blue-ribbon panel charged with scrutinizing the state’s grand jury system and making recommendations for improvement. Joining Judges Kaye and Lippman at a press conference today were New York City District Attorneys Robert Morgenthau, Charles Hynes, Richard Brown and William Murphy, as well as William Fitzpatrick, Onondaga County District Attorney and President of the New York State District Attorneys Association. 

The Grand Jury Project, commissioned by Chief Judge Kaye and Judge Lippman in December 1997, was charged with strengthening and enhancing the existing grand jury system and improving the experience of the individual grand juror. Modeled after the 1993 Jury Project which laid the groundwork for substantial reforms of the trial jury system, the Grand Jury Project undertook a comprehensive review of all operational aspects of the grand jury system, including: (1) its basic function and efficiency; (2) qualification and summoning; (3) selection and utilization; and (4) the jury experience. The 32-member panel comprised prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, academics and jury commissioners from around the state. Stephen E. Kaufman, a private practitioner based in Manhattan, chaired the committee, and former Administrative Judge Robert G.M. Keating served as vice chair. 

Chief Judge Kaye said, “After six years of achieving significant reform of the trial jury system in New York, it is now time to turn our attention to making similar strides in improving grand jury service. The Grand Jury Project’s comprehensive study will serve as a springboard for critically needed changes in the operation and administration of New York’s grand jury system. I thank all the Project members, and especially Stephen Kaufman who chaired the committee and Robert Keating who served as vice chair, for making such an invaluable contribution to this important next step in jury reform in New York State.” 

The Chief Judge added, “I am pleased to announce that the first implementation of the Project’s recommendations—to conduct a series of voluntary pilot projects throughout the state to test the feasibility of reducing the term of grand jury service—will begin shortly in Albany, Onondaga, Saratoga, Wayne, Monroe and Kings Counties. The District Attorneys of these regions have volunteered to participate in the pilot programs, and their efforts will no doubt provide valuable and practical information for future improvements to the grand jury system on a statewide level.” 

William J. Fitzpatrick, President of the New York State District Attorneys Association and District Attorney of Onondaga County, said, “My organization commends Chief Judge Kaye for her tireless commitment to improve efficiency and service for all jurors in New York State, and we are indebted to Commission Chair Stephen Kaufman. We recognize that the grand jury is a critical part of our criminal justice system, and our Association will work closely with Chief Judge kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Lippman to fairly conduct and evaluate the pilot projects.” 

Chief Administrative Judge Lippman noted, “Grand jurors constitute just four percent of all jurors who serve each year in New York, but at the same time account for 20% of the total juror fees. Further, while trial jurors have been enjoying a decrease in average length of service over the last six years statewide due to the court system’s jury reform program, the term of service for grand jurors remains long. These disparities indicate that much can be done to make grand jury operations more efficient and productive. The Grand Jury Project, after conducting an exhaustive examination of the current system that included input from the public, has made excellent recommendations in their two-volume report to help shore up our grand jury system and ameliorate its deficiencies. We look forward in the very near future to implementing these recommendations, which I am confident will bring about a revitalized grand jury system in New York.” 

As opposed to petit jurors who sit on trials, grand jurors decide whether sufficient evidence exists to proceed with prosecution in a felony case. Under New York law, out of the 23 jurors that comprise a grand jury, only 12 are needed to indict. 

Every year, over 25,000 grand jurors serve in New York. For these jurors, the average number of days served ranges from 2 to 25 days, compared with the statewide average of 2 days for trial jurors. 

The Grand Jury Project’s report is available on the Internet at http://ucs.ljx.com or can be obtained by calling (212) 428-2500.