Wanna read the latest
from Clever Magazine?
Year on the Grand Jury
Would you make a good grand juror? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Are you a good listener?
Can you keep a secret? (All
of your work must be confidential.)
Can you keep a secret? (All
of your work must be confidential.)
you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you should be a good
candidate, and I urge you to apply for grand jury service.
most people have no idea what a civil grand jury is or does. I knew something about grand juries having been a lawyer for forty
years and being exposed to local government. A little grand jury history might therefore be helpful by way of
grand jury system developed from an early Anglo Saxon institution in
England which performed functions as the watchdog on local government and
to identify wrongdoers. Over
time, its role changed as it took on responsibilities once performed by
the church. By the
seventeenth century, the grand jury had become a counterweight to the
authority of the crown, helping to protect the rights of the people. Thus, instead of trying people upon the word of the king or his
agents, the grand jury would determine whether a crime had been committed,
and whether there was enough evidence to try the accused. Only after the grand jury had made that determination would an
accused individual be put on trial before a “petit” jury, or a jury of
1635, the first American grand jury was impaneled in the Massachusetts Bay
Colony. Thereafter, all of the
colonies established grand juries. These
early juries started the practice of returning “presentments”, or
formal accusations, against public officials for misconduct. This function was different from criminal indictments which grand
juries also issued as a part of the criminal justice process. This led to the development of the present-day grand jury as a
While all states and federal courts have criminal grand juries, only two states, California and Nevada, have civil grand juries. In California, every county is required to impanel each year both a civil and a criminal grand jury. Civil grand juries spend a year representing the citizens of their county as overseers of local government. They look at how public funds are spent and how spending is documented, examine jails, juvenile halls and prisons located within the county, examine charges of willful misconduct by public officials in office, and recommend ways to increase efficiency, improve public service, and save taxpayer dollars. The grand jury speaks only through the public release of reports that are issued as a result of its investigations.
In addition, the grand jury investigates complaints from private citizens
about public agencies within its jurisdiction, as well as complaints from
individuals imprisoned within the county. The grand jury has no enforcement power. Affected elected public officials and governmental agencies to
which the reports are directed must by law respond to the findings and
recommendations contained in the issued reports within 60 or 90 days,
depending on who is the respondent.
A civil grand jury is composed of 19 individuals who are at least 18 years of age and are citizens of the United States. One popular criticism of the grand jury system is that it tends to be comprised of people who are “too male, too white, and too old”. Since a grand juror must be able to devote up to 30 hours per week to grand jury service, and the pay is negligible, most jurors are basically retired.
example, on my jury were four attorneys (much too many of these types for
the system to work efficiently), a chemical engineer, a psychologist (who
left the jury after a month because he found he couldn’t work with a
group of 18 other people), a medical doctor, three city planners, a
sociologist, an IRS auditor, a hospital administrator, a newspaper
executive (who was invaluable during the report editing process), a
foreign service officer, and an assortment of community activists and
concerned citizens. All but
one individual were retired or didn’t work. We had three women and 16 men, and no minorities.
becomes eligible to be a grand juror by first applying to their local
superior court. After
completing a written application, applicants are interviewed by the
Presiding Judge. A pool of 30
candidates is designated by the Presiding Judge, and on selection day a
panel of 19 is chosen by lot, with names being literally drawn out of the
jury wheel. Several alternates, to serve if a juror resigns or is
removed, are also chosen by lot. Grand
jurors are then sworn in by the court for a term of one year, commencing
July 1 and ending June 30 of the following year.
Once the jury is chosen, and a foreperson is selected by the Presiding Judge, the jury then organizes itself into committees such as Law & Justice, Administration & Finance, Education, Environment, and Health & Human Services. We even had a Social committee that planned monthly events and get-togethers, some with spouses and some just among the jurors.
All of the work of the jury is
confidential. The only way
the jury can speak is through written reports which it issues during the
year. On my jury, we issued 14 reports which was sort of a record I
am told. These reports ran
the gambit from disaster preparedness, bio-terrorism responsiveness,
courthouse security, school safety, psychiatric care, to an analysis of
county government, the county free library system, and the inter-agency
relationship between a water agency and a sewage district. We also received 44 complaints which were referred to committees
and investigated. Of those
complaints three resulted in written reports and the remainder were
handled in one way or another, either by a suggested resolution or by
referral to an appropriate public official or agency.
law, each year the grand jury must visit and “inspect” all detention
facilities within the county. We
were given tours of our county jail and juvenile hall. And since San Quentin Prison was in our county, we spent a day
there on a tour which was unlike the one visitors can take. We had lunch with the Warden (who, by the way, is the first
woman to ever serve in that capacity in the state prison system), spent
some time out in the yard among the prisoners (a little unnerving at
times), visited the prison industries section where they make furniture
for all of the state offices (no, they do not make license plates there),
and were taken to the death row adjustment center where about 500 people
are housed awaiting their fate. We
also visited the gas chamber which is not used anymore for gassing, as
lethal injection is the preferred method these days.
really enjoyed the investigative work and the interviews. Our grand jury ID card allowed us to open many doors at all levels
of local government. For the most part people were cooperative. Only once were we required to resort to the issuance of a subpoena. I was struck with the dedication of the government workers we
interviewed. Although many
complained that the pay was too low and there were problems of finding
affordable housing in my county, they all were quite professional in
performing their duties.
should you volunteer for grand jury service? You will become involved with other interested citizens in learning
more about city and county government and that of special districts. As far as I know, no other volunteer service gives you the chance
to make a difference on such a large scope.
JOHN W. ROSENBERG is a third
generation Californian. He
was born in Oakland, grew up in Piedmont, and went to the Univ. of
California, where he received his AB degree in economics and his JD degree
from that university’s Boalt Hall School of Law.
After practicing law with his father for six years in Oakland, he
relocated to Marin County where, for almost 40 years, he practiced
construction law, had a government contracts practice, and represented a
number of local municipalities. He
is now retired from private practice and is devoting himself to the field
of Alternate Dispute Resolution as a mediator, arbitrator and special
master on a part-time basis.
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