Saturday, November 26, 2016

[Orange County] O.C. grand jury gets 2 lawyers to help investigate jailhouse informant issue

County supervisors voted Tuesday to provide the Orange County grand jury with $400,000 to pay for two lawyers who will serve as special investigators in a probe into the alleged misuse of jailhouse informants by local sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors.
The lawyers -- attorney Fred Woocher, an election law expert and former special counsel to the California Attorney General, and Andrea Ordin, a former U.S. attorney and sitting member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission -- were handpicked by the Attorney General. They will aid the grand jury’s civil investigation, which hadn’t been publicly disclosed prior to Tuesday.
In their roles, the investigators will assess whether policies and practices of the District Attorney’s Office and sheriff’s department are illegal and to determine how effective District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been in implementing recommendations his handpicked investigatory committee issued in December. That report said a lack of supervision and training in his office had fostered a “win-at-all-cost” mentality among some prosecutors.
The Attorney General’s office said it is rare for grand juries to request special investigative assistance. The office declined to comment on the criteria it considers when deciding whether to grant or deny those requests.
It is unclear when the grand jury’s probe began. But Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff at the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the office had already provided documents to the grand jury and some employees had already provided testimony in the investigation.
“We welcome any outside inquiry in this matter and look forward to seeing the results,” Schroeder said.
For 3 1/2 years, Orange County’s justice system has been rocked by what has come to be known as the “snitch scandal,” in which the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department stand accused of improperly using jail informants and the withholding of evidence beneficial to the defense. The clandestine informant program was discovered by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders while representing mass murderer Scott Dekraai and convicted killer Daniel Wozniak. The fallout has caused at least six high-profile criminal cases to be altered or overturned
Over the past 1 1/2 years, the California Attorney General’s Office has been investigating Orange County’s court system and accusations by a judge that two deputies testified dishonestly.
The Attorney General simultaneously has defended the District Attorney’s office in a state appeals court, arguing it should not be removed from the case of Seal Beach mass murderer Scott Dekraai over concerns that false testimony may have violated his right to a fair trial. That appeal that was shot down Tuesday, upholding Judge Thomas M. Goethals’ decision to remove the District Attorney from the case.
State law allows grand juries to ask the Attorney General to hire special investigators on their behalf, with the county footing the bill.
But an online review of Orange County budgets dating back to 2000 showed no other grand jury requests for additional funding. At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and County Counsel Leon Page said they had never heard of an Orange County grand jury requesting a special investigator.
Sheriff's department spokesman Lt. Mark Stichter said Tuesday he was not aware of the grand jury’s investigation but affirmed that the department would cooperate.
“We always make ourselves available to the grand jury to answer questions and to provide information to them,” Stichter said. “They’re the grand jury, they can make the decision to do what they feel is best.”
The additional cost of hiring two investigators nearly quadrupled Orange County’s budget for the 2016-17 grand jury, which was only $145,000 before the addition.
Woocher and Ordin, the two attorneys hired as special investigators, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
November 22, 2016
The Orange County Register
By Jordan Graham and Tony Saavedra


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

[Marin County] Marin IJ receives grand jury award

The Marin Independent Journal has won the 2016 News Media Excellence in Reporting Award from the California Grand Jurors’ Association for its coverage of the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
The award, presented at the association’s annual conference Saturday in Sacramento, recognizes “individuals and media that have created positive changes in their communities by increasing awareness of the California Grand Jury system.”
The IJ was nominated for the statewide award by the Marin chapter of the grand jury, which noted that the newspaper published some 50 articles about grand jury reports over the past three years.
“Without such exposure, the public would have difficulty in learning about the grand jury’s investigations and reports,” the association said in its presentation.
November 10, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
In Your Town for Nov. 11, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Local [San Luis Obispo County] Man Receives Prestigious Award from California Grand Jurors' Association

Jim Ragan, Cambria, has been awarded the prestigious Angelo Rolando Memorial Award by the California Grand Jurors' Association (CGJA).  This award is made annually for outstanding service to the Association and was announced at the Association's Annual Conference in Sacramento, CA on November 5.

Ragan served on the 2002-03 San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury which was the beginning of his dedicated service to the San Luis Obispo County Chapter and the CGJA.  He served as President of the Chapter for five years.   Jim is currently serving on the Board of Directors of CGJA, Chairs the Public Relations Committee, is the Associations Corporate Secretary and a valued member of the CGJA Training Committee.

The CGJA is a statewide, non-profit organization of former grand jurors dedicated to promoting government accountability by improving the training and resources available to California's 58 regular grand juries and educating the public about the substantial local government oversight and reporting powers those grand juries have.

November 5, 2016
By Jerry Lewi
Vice-chair, Public Relations Committee
California Grand Jurors' Association

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

[Alameda County] Judge orders Oakland councilwoman to release records

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report on the councilwoman's actions. This is the latest in a series of articles appearing on this blog.
A judge has ordered Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney to turn over records to the city’s Public Ethics Commission for an investigation into whether she used her office for personal gain.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell issued the ruling last week, giving McElhaney until Nov. 23 to produce the documents. McElhaney is fighting to keep her seat and was initially scheduled to appear in court on Monday, the day before election day.
The ethics commission sued McElhaney on Oct. 5, saying she repeatedly broke promises to submit documents it needed for an investigation it launched in February 2015. The probe stemmed from complaints that the councilwoman inappropriately influenced planning department decisions on a town-house development planned next door to her West Oakland home.
In June, a civil grand jury found that McElhaney had breached city and state ethics rules because she had a “material financial interest” in the project due to its proximity to her house and its effect on her privacy.
According to the grand jury report, the councilwoman contacted Oakland’s planning and building chief, Rachel Flynn, to make objections to the project. Flynn then pressured the developer to scale back the design, reducing the height and directing views away from McElhaney’s house. She also urged the developer to consider an alternative design by an architect with ties to McElhaney, the report said — even after the city’s planning commission had approved the project.
The councilwoman ultimately derailed the project, and the owner is now offering the lot for sale, the report said.
The ethics commission filed an administrative subpoena for documents related to the case on July 22. It said in its lawsuit that McElhaney missed its initial deadline on Aug. 10, and then blew subsequent deadlines on Aug. 26, Aug. 29, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.
McElhaney could face a fine of $5,000, or up to three times any amount she might have paid to fight the project, if the commission finds wrongdoing.
The councilwoman said Monday that she had been waiting to hire an attorney before submitting the records and that she finally secured one last week.
“We’re going to fully cooperate with the ethics commission,” McElhaney said. “We’re looking forward to putting all of this behind us.”
Referring to the grand jury report, she said she had sought the advice of City Attorney Barbara Parker before approaching Flynn with concerns about the town-house project.
“I followed her (Parker’s) advice and believe we did everything in accordance with the rules,” McElhaney said.
Parker’s chief of staff, Alex Katz, said the city attorney can’t comment on advice to clients, or even say whether she gave advice on a specific issue. “But conflict-of-interest laws are pretty straightforward,” he said. “And anybody can look them up.”
The commission’s chief of enforcement, Milad Dalju, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
November 7, 2016
SF Gate
By Rachel Swan


Mendocino County Grand Jury Receives Excellence in Reporting Award for “The Library”

Sacramento, Calif., November 5, 2016. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award to the 2014-15 Mendocino County Grand Jury for its report, “The Library.”
Two Mendocino County grand juries, 2013-14 and 2014-15, questioned the ways that county officials were interpreting state law and county accounting records with regard to the Mendocino County Library. These two reports resulted in major changes to library management and operations.
The juries particularly questioned library record keeping and fund disbursement. Charges for certain costs were claimed to be made from the general fund. However, those costs were paid from dedicated or donated funds.
The juries and the county disagreed as to whether or not the library is a special district. The juries expressed concern about the control being exercised by the county chief executive officer in managing the library as if it were a county department. The district librarian was paid out of the dedicated revenue rather than the county general fund, and the county charged the library for indirect support. This practice prevented the library from spending its dedicated revenue for its services, particularly with regard to information technology.
The tension between the library and county officials led to the district librarian resigning.
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, county administrative officers and elected officials negatively responded to the 2013-14 grand jury report. The 2014-15 grand jury report led to reconsideration of the issues by the Board of Supervisors, who decided to implement many of the report’s recommendations that largely mirrored those of the 2013-14 report.
Funds taken improperly from the library have been restored. The Board of Supervisors says that it will request clarification from the State Legislature on payment of librarians’ salaries. That action may result in a change in how tax-supported librarian salaries are paid across California.
The annual Robert Geiss Excellence in Reporting Award recognizes a grand jury report that is of high quality, has a positive impact on the community and increases awareness of the California grand jury system. The award was presented on November 5 at the association’s 35th annual conference held in Sacramento. Finley Williams accepted the award on behalf of the Mendocino County Grand Jury.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”
Finley Williams accepted the award on behalf of the Mendocino County Grand Jury from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Awards Committee.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association
Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net


Marin Independent Journal Receives Grand Jury News Media Excellence in Reporting Award

Sacramento, Calif., November 5, 2016. The California Grand Jurors’ Association has granted the News Media Excellence in Reporting Award to the Marin Independent Journal, of Marin County, for its coverage of Marin County Grand Jury reports over the past three years.
During that time, the Independent Journal published at least 50 articles about grand jury reports on local government investigations. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, the Journal covered 29 jury reports. Some of the articles were positioned on the Journal’s front page.
By continually and consistently covering the grand jury’s reports, the Journal is making Marin County residents aware of the jury’s specific recommendations to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of local governments – including the county, cities and special districts. More broadly, the Journal is supporting and raising public awareness of the grand jury system. Without the Journal’s coverage, the Marin public would have difficulty in learning about the grand jury’s investigations and reports. The coverage also serves as a vital form of outreach in recruiting volunteers to serve on the grand jury.
The News Media Excellence in Reporting Award program recognizes individuals and media that have created positive changes in their communities by increasing awareness of the California Grand Jury system. The award was presented on November 5 at the association’s 35th annual conference held in Sacramento. Jack Nixon, president of the Marin County chapter of the association, accepted the award for the Marin Independent Journal.
The California Grand Jurors’ Association is a statewide nonprofit organization of former grand jurors with the mission “to promote, preserve and support the grand jury system through training, education and outreach.”

Jack Nixon, president of the Marin County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors' Association, accepting the award from Barbara Sommer, chair of the association's Awards Committee.

Press release, California Grand Jurors’ Association

Contact Jim Ragan at jimragan@charter.net

Monday, November 7, 2016

[San Mateo County] South City cops eye body cams: Chief says equipment up for purchase could enhance department’s transparency

South San Francisco police may soon be required to wear body cameras mounted to uniforms recording their behavior while on duty, under a proposal to be considered by city officials.
The South San Francisco City Council will address a recommendation to spend $312,000 on purchasing body-worn camera systems for police officers during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 2.
The technology has become increasingly popular across the nation as law enforcement agencies seek to address community concerns regarding transparency, and the South San Francisco police chief said he is hopeful the cameras will fortify the public’s trust in the department.
“We want to show our community that we are transparent and we are looking for whatever ways possible to provide them, and our officers, the best protection services,” said Police Chief Jeff Azzopardi.
The money, roughly $260,000 of which is already accounted for in the department’s annual budget or available grant funding, would pay toward the purchase of 45 body cameras and 26 cameras for police cruisers.
The department already has cameras installed in its vehicles, said Azzopardi, and law enforcement officials have been waiting to purchase body cameras which sync with the car devices.
Azzopardi said he believed officers’ familiarity with using the car cameras over the past seven years would make them more comfortable with using the surveillance systems attached to their uniforms.
“This is not something completely new and I think our officers are comfortable with the fact that you need to be transparent with the community,” he said.
Under approval by the council, cameras would be installed by the end of the year, followed by three months of training before the total implementation would be finished by the end of March, according to a city report.
In the wake of a series of violent confrontations between police and civilians occurring across the nation, some departments have taken to the cameras as a means of building confidence in their commitment to transparency.
But advocates for civil liberties have noted merely authorizing camera use is not tantamount to assuring law enforcement is committed to being more forthcoming, commonly citing inconsistencies regarding when the devices are used or difficulties associated with accessing potentially controversial footage.
Azzopardi though said it is too early to discuss the details of a potential policy in South San Francisco, as city officials and department union representatives are still in the process of negotiating how the devices will be used.
He said, ideally though, the body camera policy will mirror the use agreement already in place for car cameras. Talks have gone smoothly so far, said Azzopardi, as most department officers understand the benefits that can be offered by body cameras.
A recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report calling for adoption of body-worn cameras by the end of 2017 did influence the South San Francisco Police Department’s decision to move forward with the initiative, said Azzopardi.
“That sort of sped up our conversation,” he said of the grand jury report.
Currently, only police departments in Atherton, Belmont, Hillsborough, Foster City and Menlo Park use such cameras, according to the report, but South San Francisco joins departments in Daly City, East Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Mateo in exploring the technology.
“Body-worn cameras clearly state to the public that its police force has nothing to hide, that their encounters with the public are transparent and that these encounters are subject to internal and, when appropriate, external scrutiny,” according to the report.
Before the cameras are installed, the South San Francisco department plans to hold a series of community forums to inform residents about the proposal and receive feedback on the initiative.
Azzopardi said he believes officials and residents will thoroughly vet the technology, should the council approve the acquisition during the upcoming meeting.
“This is just step one,” he said. “There is going to be policy development and implementation and we are on our way, but first we need the council to approve this agreement.”
November 2, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh


San Francisco supervisors approve civil grand jury report on police shootings

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a civil grand jury report on a string of 18 deadly police shootings in the city since 2011.
The 107-page report released in July reached three main conclusions: That the investigations into the shootings took too long, that the public lacked access to information about the process and that the city and county agencies didn’t share enough with the public about the individual cases.
November 1, 2016
KTVU San Francisco


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

[Santa Clara County] City of Santa Clara says 49ers using general funds for stadium operations

Blog note: this article references a June 2016 grand-jury-report regarding financial arrangements between the 49ers and the City of Santa Clara.
SANTA CLARA (KTVU/BCN)— Santa Clara city officials are alleging the San Francisco 49ers of not providing financial documents for an audit that has found the team is spending general fund money on Levi's Stadium operations.  
The team hasn't submitted records to the city such as a shared expense budget, stadium parking plan and five-year capital improvement plan required under Measure J, Mayor Lisa Gillmor said.
Late Monday night, the 49ers blasted the city-hired independent auditor calling his findings "disappointing."
The 49ers issued a memo to the auditor claiming he's acting more "as a consultant to the mayor looking to give credence to her unfounded allegations of financial malfeasance on the part of the 49ers, all timed to coincide perfectly with the mayor's election season goals." The memo went on to say no general fund money or other city funds have been used for Stadium Authority Operations as the team is in the process of sending and reformatting budget documents as requested.
The 49ers were in the process of sending the requested documents this afternoon, while a small amount of other records have to be formatted as requested by the auditors and will be submitted in the next few days, team spokesman Bob Lange wrote.
The 2010 Measure J passed by 60 percent of votes approved a proposal to build the 68,500-seat stadium, which opened in 2014 as a publicly owned facility built next to California's Great America theme park.
A report released in June by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury investigating stadium operations found there were no financial reports or audits to make sure stadium expenditures were following Measure J.
A month later, the city hired San Francisco-based auditor Harvey Rose Associates LLC to audit the stadium management company, which is affiliated with the team, Gillmor said.
A preliminary audit report on Oct. 12 showed general fund money was being used on the stadium for public safety in violation of the measure, but it's still unclear how much was spent, Gillmor said.
 The auditor told the city's Ad Hoc Stadium Audit Committee, comprised of the mayor and two City Council members, at its Thursday meeting that the 49ers haven't been cooperative or responsive with the review by not providing the required documents requested more than a month ago, Gillmor said.
 "I'm curious to see what they submit to the city and our auditors because we were told last Thursday that these documents didn't exist," Gillmor said.
 "It's two-and-a-half years of documents that provide the basis for the Stadium Authority budget and a level of detail of expenditures and revenue that we haven't seen in the past," she said.
 The council is expected to discuss the team's potential breach of contract at its next public meeting on Nov. 15 under a referral by the ad hoc committee, according to Gillmor.
The council could find the 49ers violated its contract under Measure J and give the team 30 days to cure the breach, Gillmor said.
 The mayor said she hasn't heard back from the team on whether or not they plan to send the required documents this afternoon.
If the team doesn't turn in the needed reports, it could delay the results of the audit that was estimated to be finished in January, Gillmor said.
The city manager has addressed the violation by telling city employees to make sure general fund money isn't being spent on the stadium, she said.
"The Mayor's accusations that money is going from the City's General Fund into the stadium are false and irresponsible," 49ers officials said in a statement issued over the weekend.
 In the past two years, the team stadium management company has collected more than $5.5 million for the city's general fund and paid fees adding up to another $2 million, team officials said.
"The fact that we have two and half years and they haven't provided what they are supposed to provide in their agreements or dealt with us in a professional or respectful manner," said Gillmor. "We are standing up for ourselves and we are fighting for our city."
The stadium, hotels and other businesses have helped boost tax revenues that are added in the city's general fund, according to the team.
October 31, 2016
KTVU.com
By David Louie


[Shasta County] Restaurant plans at old police station revived

Blog note: this article references a 2013 Marin County grand jury report.
Redding's former police station may open as a restaurant and offices, after all.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider a proposal from Equity Streams to buy the property and parking lot in the 1300 block of California Street.
The Redding firm would pay the fair market value on the site of $650,000 and have 60 days to complete its due diligence, under terms outlined in a non-binding letter of intent. Escrow would close by Jan. 20, 2017.
According to plans, the vacant building would be converted into offices. The parking lot and storage bays would be converted into either a small restaurant or brewery with indoor and outdoor seating. The parking lot also could be used to host private events in the summer, such as music nights and beer tasting, the letter said.
Mayor Missy McArthur, recalling the aging building's recent troubles with squatters using it for drug use, welcomed Equity Streams' proposal as a positive move for the downtown.
"We're thrilled to have the opportunity to revitalize the downtown by having a mixed use opportunity and to not have one more empty building," she said.
Aaron Nelson, a managing member of Equity Streams who also owns Venture Properties, did not immediately respond to an email for comment, and he was not at his office on Friday.
A staff report said the city will need to obtain the first phase of an environmental site assessment report. It also will pay a 3 percent commission to the buyer's real estate broker.
Equity Streams would make its initial deposit of $5,000 to the city by Nov. 15.
The buyer also agrees to accept the property in its current condition without any further work, repairs, treatments or improvements.
The council last year agreed that if the aging police facility sold, up to $375,000 would be put down as seed money for a sobering center, a place where people sleep off the effects of alcohol. It's intended to divert them from the jail, while also freeing up officers from a lengthy booking process.
Police Chief Robert Paoletti has endorsed the sobering center as a way of potentially reaching a fraction of the offenders who drive up the arrest rate.
"The idea of having that cash for the sobering center thrills me too," said McArthur, who has long been a proponent of such a facility. "It's not the end-all but a stepping stone. It is the start to solving some of the social issues in our town."
For perspective, a nine-bed sobering center in Santa Barbara tracking more than 700 admissions five years ago, operated in 2013 with a staff of six, all who were recovering alcoholics, and a budget of about $200,000.
Funding came primarily from the police department, with additional funding provided by Santa Barbara County agencies and nonprofits, according to a 2013 Grand Jury report from Marin County, which was making the case for a facility there.
Redding police moved out of the California Street building a year ago. Jamie Lynn, a Redding contractor who specializes in old buildings, thought about transforming the old station into a restaurant like the Spaghetti Factory. But he said the costs to retrofit the building did not pencil out.
October 29, 2016
Record Searchlight
By Jenny Espino