Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill to expand the jury pool for municipal court trials to include licensed drivers and holders of state identification cards, not just registered voters.
So, who's in charge of making sure the new eligibility rules are carried out? That's hard to tell.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal recently ordered that, for the next month and a half, municipal courts must draw their jury pools from registered voters only, which had been done in the past. Why? Because the state Department of Motor Vehicles could not provide a list of licensed drivers and state identification card holders, 18 or older, as the law required.
Why not? Apparently, because the DMV does not have a municipality code for drivers in its database that would enable it to pinpoint the cities in which licensed drivers reside.
Further questions abound, such as why the DMV doesn't have the equipment; why the General Assembly hasn't enforced the law it wrote; why it could take six to nine months to fix the problem.
Toal said she has no authority to order the DMV to come up with the necessary information. But, she added, if she hadn't limited the list of potential jurors to registered voters, no municipal court trials could be held.
DMV officials said they might have to work with the State Budget and Control Board, Department of Transportation and county and municipal associations to provide the required information regarding licensed drivers. A DMV spokeswoman said it could take months to fix the problem "based on our initial discussion with other agencies who might need to play a role in pulling the municipality data together."
The Legislature appears to bear most of the responsibility for this logjam. If lawmakers are going to enact new rules, they need to provide the means for carrying them out. If a state agency is not equipped to perform according to the standards decreed by the Legislature, that is the fault of government.
That said, we wonder why DMV officials did not alert lawmakers about this problem before it became a crisis.
As various state officials go round and round, members of the state chapter of the NAACP are pointing accusing fingers at Toal, saying she is denying criminal defendants the jury selection to which they are entitled by law. We doubt the intention of the chief justice is to deny people the right to serve on a jury. If the DMV had provided the required documentation, she no doubt would have been happy to allow cities to use it.
For now, however, the buck appears to have stopped nowhere. Maybe Toal's order will force someone to take responsibility and solve this dilemma -- and we hope it won't take nine months to get it done.