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SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2007

Judge rejects indictments from jury sworn in by bailiff

ONEONTA (AP) — A Blount County judge threw out about 70 indictments because grand jury witnesses had been sworn in by a bailiff instead of the district attorney or the jury foreman.

District Attorney Tommy Rountree said he will appeal Circuit Judge Steven King's decision to quash indictments from the April grand jury. If it stands, he said, it could affect "thousands of cases" around the state, although prosecutors in nearby counties said it would not affect them.

The judge cited an Alabama law that says "witnesses before the grand jury may be sworn by the district attorney or foreman."

The indictments can be brought again, but Blount County Sheriff Danny Morton said, "Some of these people we have to go out and get again are not going to be found."

He said he had been aware of the use of a bailiff for some time and had had questions about the procedure.

"It's going to cause a great deal of trouble," Morton said. "We're going to have to reindict and go through the whole thing again."

Circuit Clerk Michael Criswell said the judge's ruling so far hasn't resulted in anyone being released from jail. He said it was not generally known that a bailiff was being used to swear in witnesses.

But Rountree, in the third year of his first term as district attorney, said it was his understanding that bailiffs could swear in witnesses for grand jury testimony, and that it was commonly done in other, larger jurisdictions.

In Calhoun, Shelby and St. Clair, witnesses are sworn in by the district attorney, according to their offices. In Jefferson County, it is the jury foreman, who can delegate it to the district attorney.

Chris Bence, a spokesman for Attorney General Troy King's office, said Rountree contacted the office Wednesday.

"It's too soon to tell what may come out of it, but we are looking at the situation," Bence said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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