Viewpoint

Is grand jury service for you?

February 7, 2013 

February 2013 is Grand Jury Awareness Month in all 58 California counties. Here in San Luis Obispo County, the Superior Court is reaching out to county citizens to encourage them to apply to become members of the county’s grand jury.

The Superior Court is seeking applicants for the 2013-2014 grand jury, which will sit for one year beginning July 1, 2013, and ending June 30, 2014.

The grand jury, which has 19 members, is a unique local government watchdog. It is an official body of the Superior Court in the county with vast investigative powers, but no enforcement authority. State law requires the county grand jury to issue reports of its findings, together with recommendations, to which the affected local government agencies must respond by law. You can access past grand jury reports at www.slo  courts.net/grand_jury  .

The principal function of the grand jury is to examine how public agencies within the county are functioning. The key questions for each grand jury are: Is local government being run honestly, effectively and efficiently? Are public monies in the county being managed properly and in accordance with the law? Are the needs of the local government agencies and their employees being met sufficiently to allow them to deliver mandated public services?

More than 40 years ago, a California Appeals Court stated why California’s unique grand jury system, mandated by the California Constitution, is so important: “In our system of government, a grand jury is the only agency free from possible political or official bias that has an opportunity to see the picture of crime and the operation of government relating thereto on any broad basis. It performs a valuable public purpose in presenting its conclusions drawn from that overview. The public may, of course, ultimately conclude that the jury’s fears were exaggerated or that its proposed solutions are unwise. But the debate, which reports would provoke, could lead only to a better understanding of public governmental problems.”

What are the benefits of becoming a member of the grand jury? They are many.

If you are interested in serving your community in a unique way, this is the assignment for you.

If you are open-minded and curious by nature and want to learn more about how local governments function in our county, this is the assignment for you.

If you enjoy working with others to find information, draw appropriate conclusions and develop recommendations, this is the assignment for you.

If you enjoy meeting new people with a variety of backgrounds, this is the assignment for you.

If you are new to the county, as Iwas, and want to meet key county officials, thereby learning more about our local government, this is the assignment for you.

If you enjoy writing reports, this is the assignment for you.

Service on the grand jury is best for retired or semiretired citizens because it requires an average of at least 20 hours a week over 12 months to undergo training, conduct investigations, participate in interviews, tour prison facilities and write reports. No one thinking about applying to serve on the grand jury should underestimate the amount of time required to be an active, effective member.

The Superior Court and county government will provide training. You will meet and often develop friendships with other active, curious county residents with a broad range of business and government experience and interests.

Please consider applying to be a member of the 2013-2014 grand jury. Service is a volunteer activity, but grand jurors receive $15 per day for their service, as well as mileage reimbursement.

Applications are available online at http://www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.

Norman Baxter is foreperson of the 2011-2012 San Luis Obispo County grand jury.

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