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Hispanic chief judge calls for jury diversity

CHICAGO (AP) – The first Hispanic to become chief judge of the busy Northern District of Illinois said Tuesday that one of his priorities will be to help ensure that the district’s juries better reflect its ethnic and racial diversity.

Ruben Castillo, who has been a U.S. district court judge for 19 years, told The Associated Press during an interview shortly before his swearing-in as chief judge Tuesday that defense attorneys have complained for years that juries often don’t reflect the multicultural makeup of the district, which spans from Chicago to Rockford and west to the Iowa border.

“That’s been a sore point for all of us, including the court, as we work and try to fix that,” Castillo said.

Castillo, 58, was born in Chicago and grew up on the ethnically mixed northwest side, and he’s maintained close links to the Latino community. He said he hopes his rise to the high-profile federal post will help inspire young Hispanics.

“I understand it’s historic,” he said. “The real significance will come on the streets of Chicago if some kids growing up the way I grew up think to themselves, ‘Anything is possible.’ If that one kid turns into 100 or 1,000 – that’s even better.”

As chief judge, Castillo becomes the top administrator of the court district, which is the third busiest in the nation, handling about 1,000 criminal and 12,000 civil cases a year.

Castillo was nominated to the federal bench in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton. Before then, he worked as a defense lawyer and a prosecutor out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. He takes over as chief judge from James Holderman, whose term just ended.

Castillo’s caseload will be reduced, but he’ll continue to oversee cases. That includes the drug-trafficking trial of Vicente Zambada, a lieutenant in Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, which is expected to happen next year.

Diversity, Castillo said, would be a theme of his seven-year term.

“I’m not only going to have diversity as a goal, but I am going to ask this court to embrace diversity,” he said.

He did not offer detailed fixes to the problem of a lack of diversity on juries but said part of the solution would be for court official, including himself personally, to reach out to minority communities and help them better understand the jury system.


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