In the Media

07/05/13: Federal judges meet with religious and community leaders, encourage greater participation in jury duty

Federal judges meet with religious and community leaders, encourage greater participation in jury duty  

By Natasha Dado

Friday, 07.05.2013, 12:11am - Arab American News

DETROIT — Inside Chief Federal Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Gerald Rosen’s chambers, sits a copy of the Quran, alongside the Old Jewish Testament. Both books are laid flat open to sections that discuss justice and the courts. 

The Quran was given to Rosen last April by Imam Mohammad Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, who was one of several religious leaders from the American Muslim community to visit the Theodore Levin Courthouse in Detroit and meet with Rosen and about 10 other federal judges to discuss the importance of jury service. 

Local Muslim clerics stand with Chief Judge Gerald Rosen, other federal judges, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Barbara McQuade and Arab American community leaders at the
Theodore Levin Courthouse in Detroit."They gave me a copy, so I put it right here with a copy of the Old Testament. I have the Jewish Old Testament and the Quran," Rosen said.

Jury diversity has become an issue, as more people complain about being deprived of fair trials when juries aren’t reflective of a defendant’s background. Doubts have been raised about whether a black defendant can have a fair trial in a Detroit federal courthouse with an all white jury, or if the negative portrayals of Arabs and Muslims in the media could influence a jury’s verdict in a case involving an Arab or Muslim defendant. 

Judicial experts who have weighed in on the topic say that it is still possible for a defendant to have a fair trial, even when the jury isn’t reflective of the defendant’s background, because jurors are directed to follow instructions and the law.  

"I had a reason for wanting them to come. We are trying to do outreach to all of the minority communities, and I think it’s important for our court to engage the community on a number of different levels…A very big problem in minority communities, including the Middle Eastern community, is not responding to our jury summons," Rosen said.

Diverse juries can offer different perspectives when reviewing a case, and increase understanding about the statements and actions of defendants and witnesses, leading to a more just verdict. 

 The discussion among religious leaders and judges was centered on how courts select juries, the importance of jury diversity, and the role that religious leaders can play in the community to encourage more people to serve.

Rosen said that every Imam who was present pledged that they would try and get more people from the community to become active in jury duty.  

Imam Mohammed Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights said that, since the meeting, he has addressed the issue of jury diversity during Friday services. 

"Where there are rights, there are responsibilities.  We cannot just talk about our rights. Fulfilling our civil duties as citizens is important," Elahi said. 

The meeting came on the heels of two other forums that were organized to encourage more minorities to respond to jury summons and actually participate in the process. One of the forums, which was aimed at reaching out to the African American community, took place at Wayne County Community College District July of last year.  

Another, which was focused on outreach to the Arab American community, was held at the Lebanese American Heritage Club (LAHC) in February this year. "The meeting at the courthouse was a follow up on the forum which took place at the Lebanese American Heritage Club," said Abed Hammoud, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who also served as the moderator for the panel discussion on jury diversity at the LAHC. 

Hammoud, Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, Rosen and other courthouse officials helped organize the meeting between the judges and religious leaders.   

 A forum focusing on helping get the Hispanic community to participate more in jury duty is being organized.  

"One of my priorities as Chief Judge was to encourage my colleagues to get out into the different communities; understanding that there is much we can’t talk about, but also understanding that the more the community understands what we do, the more they will understand the role of the federal judiciary," he said. 

Rosen shared a story with the Imams about a Muslim juror who once said that she couldn’t serve because it was a violation of her religion to participate in jury duty.

"When I told the Imams this story, they said ‘Oh that’s not true.  That’s absolutely not true.  She’s just making excuses,’" Rosen said. "It’s so important that our juries represent a cross section of our community." 

For years Rosen has maintained a positive relationship with the Arab American community, and  continues to make efforts to further understand it. 

"It’s a fascinating community.  It is so diverse within itself. One of the best things about this area is the ethnic diversity and all that it brings," Rosen said.  

Many view the opportunity to serve on juries as a constitutional privilege, because they have the opportunity to administer justice. Jury duty is one of the most basic concrete forms of self government. 

Rosen says people who have served on juries tell him afterwards that although they initially didn’t want to participate, it turned out to be a rewarding experience. 

"I think this was a great initiative," Elahi said.  "We need to have more of these meetings, because they are educational to both our community and public officials."