By Donna Westfall – June 16, 2023
It seems that I get a jury summons almost every year, but when I’ve specifically asked to be on the Grand Jury, I’ve been snubbed.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE GRAND JURY?
There are three functions of the Grand Jury, Penal Code requires the Grand Jury to:
- Inquire into the condition and management of jails with the County.
- Investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of county officers, departments, and functions.
- Inquire into the willful or corrupt misconduct in office of public officers.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CIVIL AND CRIMINAL GRAND JURY?
Civil: Every year, in each of California’s 58 counties, a group of ordinary citizens takes an oath to serve as grand jurors. Its function is to investigate the operations of the various officers, departments and agencies of local government.
Criminal: A criminal jury uses trial evidence to make a determination of innocence or guilt.
Grand Jury proceedings are not open to the public. Plus they are secret. The only people present in the room during a grand jury proceeding are the jurors themselves, a prosecutor, and a court reporter, who is sworn to secrecy. There are no judges, clerks, or other court personnel present.
Another reason they meet in secrecy: The protection of whistleblowers is one of the primary reasons for the confidential nature of the grand jury’s work. Grand juries may charge public officials of “willful or corrupt misconduct in office.” The accusation is tried as if it were an indictment, and may not be dismissed for political or extra-legal motives.
However, I have personally found, and in my opinion, that the protection of whistleblowers in this County does not happen. Too many things are political, and depending upon the grand jurors, the presiding judge and the powers that be, “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” takes places routinely. Oftentimes, just a few grand jurors will lead the pack. The rest attend as performing their duty, but take little interest.
WHO WILL BE PICKED THIS YEAR?
There’s a discrepancy. It was ordered that the panel to be picked from consist of not less than 50 (42) names.
I called the courthouse and asked to be on the Grand Jury and was told by Judy Reynolds, Judicial Assistant for Judge McElfresh, that names had already been selected, but I could go on the list as an alternate. I said by all means, put me on as an alternate. She told me I didn’t have to fill out any paperwork.