Can you keep secrets? Does it intrigue you to have access to the county’s highest-ranking officials and to documents that may be off-limits to most people? If so, you may want to become a member of the grand jury.
A few years ago, I joined and it proved to be one of the most exciting experiences of a lifetime. I’m not the only former grand juror who feels this way. Most former grand jury members describe the experience as priceless and feel that they gained more than they gave. And, because they felt that strongly, many now belong to the Former Grand Jurors Association to keep their memories alive.
Here are some of the things former grand jurors have said about their experiences:
• “I served my community in a unique way.”
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• “I became a better informed citizen.”
• “I learned how my government agencies and the court system operate.”
• “I can better look at and understand issues from both sides.”
• “I met interesting people from all walks of life and made new friends.”
• “I met and interacted with key public officials, department heads and staff from our cities and county.”
• “I participated in a tour of the inside of our prison (California Men’s Colony), juvenile hall and jails where I gained a very different perspective of how they operate.”
February is Grand Jury Awareness Month. It is the month when former grand jury members and the Superior Court reach out to the citizens of San Luis Obispo County to help them become acquainted with the functions of the grand jury and to encourage them to become a member of the next grand jury.
The Superior Court of San Luis Obispo is seeking applicants for the 2010-2011 grand jury. Thirty jurors are chosen each year, 19 of those are active members, and the other 11 are alternates. Once a grand jury is selected, their assignment begins on July 1, and ends June 30, 2011.
The 19-member grand jury is a unique jury: a citizen watchdog of civil government. It is an official body of the Superior Court, has independent authority and is not answerable to administrators or legislators.
The principal function of the grand jury is to safeguard the public’s interest by examining how our public agencies operate. A secondary function is to examine the condition and management of the prisons and jails of the county.
In carrying out these functions, grand jurors ensure that the county government, cities and special services districts and their departments operate honestly and efficiently and that the money and public service entrusted to them are managed judiciously. The key focus of all the grand jury’s inquiries is to seek ways to improve our county by understanding and reconciling the needs, frustrations, stumbling blocks and successes of the people who work for the county and the people who are served by the county.
As a grand juror, you might pursue investigations based on complaints received from citizens or look into other local government issues that you and your 18 fellow jurors decide are most important in 2010 and 2011.
If you do join, you can expect to work hard. As a member of the grand jury, you should be prepared to devote around 20 hours a week investigating cases, conducting interviews, taking tours and writing reports. At the end of the term, your grand jury will publish a report of its findings and recommendations.
If you would like to see what your fellow citizens have worked on, you can read the past and current reports of the grand jury at www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.
If you are drawn to this secretive, exciting, challenging and rewarding opportunity, your grand jury experience can start now by:
• Downloading an application at www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.
• Calling the grand jury office at 788-7062 and requesting an application be mailed to your attention.
The deadline for applications this year is April 2. We hope you apply and look forward to meeting you.
Dorothy Schlitz served on the 2004-2005 grand jury, serves on the Former Grand Jurors Association board of directors and is the president of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute — Cal Poly.