ANGLETON, Texas - The Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit is now investigating an alleged corrupt jury selection process in Brazoria County that’s been happening for more than a decade. The former district clerk in question has now retired. Her attorney is maintaining her innocence.
These allegations about a corrupt process first surfaced in late August.
Experts say the investigation could possibly overturn thousands of cases.
"The law in Texas is very clear about how we randomly select jurors, and it tells elected officials how to do it. There was simply no reason to separate people by city or non-city and then by race," said Chris Tritico, FOX 26's political analyst.
Jury selection is supposed to be a non-biased, randomized process. But in Brazoria County, former district clerk Rhonda Barchak is now accused of doing the opposite, by separating jurors according to race and location.
"She had Pearland and white, Pearland non-white, and a white and non-white column, and that's how she chose the different jury pools," said Eugene Howard, President of the Brazoria County NAACP chapter.
Barchak served as Brazoria County District Clerk for 11 years.
In a statement, her attorney Chip Lewis said,
"Rhonda assumed the duties of the Brazoria County District Clerk on July 2, 2010. She served in that role until August 26, 2021. At no time during her tenure did she do anything improper. Multiple judges, attorneys, and dozens of other county employees were privy to the process of jury empanelment, and no one ever expressed any dissatisfaction or complaint about the process as the process did not disenfranchise and potential jurors. No one had any complaints regarding the jury composition as the process was in no way intended to disadvantage minority litigants, and they knew Rhonda’s impeccable character for working with her from many years in the courthouse.
"During Rhonda’s tenure, Brazoria County did not possess the technical capability to electronically randomize the jury pool. Therefore, to comply with the Government Code, the clerk’s office had to randomize by hand. Rhonda was not afforded any training or direction on this process. She did not invent the process Brazoria County was using. Rather, she followed the process that her predecessors utilized in empaneling grand juries. Rhonda did her best to ensure the jury pools were a representative cross-section of Brazoria County.
"Any claims of systemic racism relative to this jury empaneling process could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, rumors that have swirled around this matter are both baseless and the product of political aspirations. The bailiff that initiated this accusation is married to a lady who intended run for the office of Brazoria County District Clerk.
"Rhonda had zero information regarding which potential jurors would be assigned to which court or which case. The courts themselves would come get the juror information cards and the physical bodies from the randomized stack of potential jurors. More importantly, Rhonda did not know the race/ethnicity of any of the parties involved in the cases."
"Her attorney confirmed that it wasn't just her. Elected Commissioners, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court employees of county employees that knew about this. And one day is one day too long. Just think about all of the families that have been ripped apart, futures destroyed, incomes destroyed, lives ruined with unfair justice. I’m begging the DOJ to come down," Howard said.
The Brazoria County District Attorney's Office declined to comment while the investigation is ongoing.