A key focus at the the Hennepin County Board meeting on July 12 was a presentation by Public Defender Emmett Donnelly regarding efforts to increase diversity in jury pools for Hennepin County.

A jury pool is a large group of people who receive a summons and are instructed to report to the courthouse for jury duty. Smaller jury panels are selected from the pool, who then go through questioning by the judge and attorneys to select the actual jurors for a particular case.

At the meeting Donnelly noted that even though 14% of Hennepin County residents are Black, only 6% of people in jury pools are Black. Improvements to this disparity may require changes in state law, according to Donnelly.  

The primary sources used to select jury pools are voter registration records and the state’s driver’s license/state ID database. Black voters tend to be underrepresented in these records. Black residents are often lower-income and have less stable housing. As a result, they may move more frequently, meaning that the records may be outdated. This is further complicated by the fact that the summons is sent by mail. If the address is outdated, the summons may never be received.

Donnelly noted how many other states had expanded the source list to include tax filings, since that is a more comprehensive and up to date database. He also noted difficulties in transportation, getting time off work, and childcare needs as barriers to participation for potential jurors.

In response to Donnelly’s remarks, commissioners discussed the costs involved with getting a driver’s license (driver’s education courses, etc.), how mail was an ineffective method of communication (especially for residents without stable housing), and how parents without the resources for child care were often unable to participate.  Commissioners expressed interest in continuing to work with staff on this issue.

The board meets again on Aug. 2.

What is the Hennepin County Board?  

Boards of Commissioners are the governing bodies of Minnesota’s counties. County commissioners are elected by district, serve a four-year term that are staggered among the board, and are responsible for the operation of the county and the delivery of county services. County commissioners are the elected officials who oversee county activities and work to ensure that citizen concerns are met, federal and state requirements are fulfilled, and county operations run smoothly.

There are seven county commissioners on the Hennepin County board. Most of Southwest is located in District 3, represented by Marion Greene, who is the current Board Chair.

Minnesota is divided into 87 counties. Counties provide many government services, including social services, corrections, child protection, library services, hospitals and nursing homes, public health services, planning and zoning, economic development, parks and recreation, water quality, and solid waste management.