February is the month we officially recognize the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury. The grand jury is always looking for a few good citizens to serve and evaluate how our local governments are working. You might fit the bill, so read on. First, a little history will help. The grand jury is an ancient organization that can trace its origin to English common law and King Henry of England (1154-1189), the great grandson of William the Conqueror. It was recognized by King John in the Magna Carta in 1215 by demands of the nobility.
As governments have become larger and more sophisticated, grand juries have become less prominent, but seven states, including California, still require sitting grand juries. Their purpose in California is to oversee local governments and investigate citizens’ complaints about their government. Each county in California is required to have a sitting grand jury.
The San Luis Obispo Grand Jury is composed of 19 adult citizens randomly chosen from a pool of qualified candidates. The jury can investigate almost any aspect of local government, but state government is beyond its purview.
The jury has broad subpoena powers so government must cooperate. As a general rule our local governments operate efficiently and well. When they do not is where the grand jury can make a difference and the fun begins.
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If you serve on the grand jury, you will meet interesting and knowledgeable people and learn much about your local governments. You will even inspect the local jails and prisons. It will be time well spent.
You can find more information and apply to serve on the grand jury at www.slocourts.net/grand_jury. You may also call the office at 788-7062. The deadline to apply for the July 2011 through June 2012 grand jury is March 18.
Check it out; you will be glad you did, because you can make a difference.
Richard Riggins is a member of the 2007-2008 grand jury and a member of the Former Grand Jurors’ Association.