Low turnout plagues jury selection as trial nears for former Summit Middle School teacher accused of sexual assault
Less than half of the 250 potential Summit County jurors summoned showed up to court
Dozens of people lined the halls of the Summit County courthouse Monday morning, Sept. 18, as jury selection kicked off for the trial of a former Summit Middle School gym teacher accused of sexual assault.
Leonard Grams, 62, has pleaded not guilty to five Class 4 felony charges of sexual assault on a child and three Class 3 felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, according to court records. His trial is expected to last two weeks.
Judge Karen Romeo asked the potential jurors, who the court handled in two batches Monday, for their patience during the trial. Jury selection is expected to last three days, Romeo said.
“It’s going to be a long trial,” she said. “It’s going to be a long process.”
Wearing a gray suit over a plaid button-up, Grams quietly acknowledged the potential jurors with a slight nod when his defense team, led by attorney Jake Lilly first introduced him Monday.
The charges Grams faces stem from allegations of sexual contact raised in the fall of 2021 by three middle school students who had classes with him, according to an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant filed in the case.
The allegations include that Grams touched a student’s breast during a “high five frenzy,” rested his hand on another student’s butt on two separate occasions involving climbing activities and touched a third student’s butt while she was doing pushups, the affidavit states. He taught at the school for 28 years, according to court documents.
The school district placed Grams on leave in October 2021. Police arrested him last year on Aug. 9, 2022, and he submitted his resignation to the school on Aug. 31, 2022.
Early on in the jury selection process, Romeo raised concern about the amount of jurors who showed up to court that morning. The court sent out a total of 450 jury summons, with 250 people expected to appear on Monday and 200 on Tuesday. But less than half — only 85 — of those summoned showed up Monday.
“I think some people just don’t pay attention, don’t think there will be consequences if they don’t show up,” Romeo said.
But, there can and likely will be consequences if potential jurors don’t show up and don’t have a good excuse, Romeo added. In the past, she said she has sent the Summit County Sheriff’s Office to knock on the doors of those who received jury summons and required those that didn’t show to complete 8 hours of community service for each day of jury duty they missed.
Jury trials are an essential function of democracy enshrined in both the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, Romeo said. The right to a jury of your peers is “not perfect,” she said, but it is among the best systems in the world for fairly determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases.
Before noon, Romeo had dismissed more than 10 potential jurors, either because they did not live in Summit County more than half the year or because they had pre-planned travel commitments. She required proof of plane tickets before dismissing potential jurors with travel plans.
“I need my full-time retirees,” Romeo joked after dismissing a part-time resident, “not my second-home owners.”
Upon returning after lunch, Romeo dismissed about nine more potential jurors who she said had indicated on their juror questionnaires that they either knew someone related to the case or had previously heard about it.
For several hours in the afternoon, the remaining potential jurors were taken into a back room for individual questioning. Another five were eventually dismissed.
The jury will consist of 12 jurors and two alternates, Romeo said. The jury will not be sequestered, or isolated, from the rest of the public during the trial, she said, adding that potential jurors shall not discuss the case with anyone, form any opinions related to it or do any research on their own.
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