Thursday, December 18, 2008
Article Launched: 12/17/2008 06:05:38 PM PST
TEMPLE CITY - The county grand jury is investigating a developer's claim that city leaders demanded bribes in return for approving a long-delayed development project, sources said.
All five City Council members and the city manager testified before the grand jury on Monday, according to a City Hall source who requested anonymity.
Multiple sources said the grand jury is investigating allegations made by Randy Wang, the developer of the long-delayed Piazza mall project. Wang has accused Mayor Cathe Wilson and council members Judy Wong and David Capra of demanding cash payments and a condominium in return for cooperation on the project.
Wilson, Wong and Capra all have denied Wang's claims.
Along with Martin, Wilson, Wong and Capra, councilmen Fernando Vizcarra and Kenneth Gillanders also were questioned by the grand jury, sources said.
Gillanders said Wednesday that council members were prohibited from talking about their testimony.
"I can't discuss it. We're not allowed even to discuss it among ourselves," he said.
David Demerjian, head of the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, has repeatedly declined to comment on whether there is an ongoing investigation into Wang's allegations.
Council members have expressed frustration that Wang continues to seek the city's cooperation on the Piazza project while at the same time accusing council members of soliciting bribes.
Wang raised the allegations as part of his counter-suit against the city, which sued the developer in April, claiming he failed to meet agreed-upon construction deadlines. The city's suit asks that the 4-acre property, at Las Tunas Drive and Rosemead Boulevard, should be returned to the city because of the delays.
In 2005, Wang and city officials agreed the Piazza at Temple City project would be completed by August 2009.
The project included 124,000 square feet of retail space, 52 new one-bedroom condominiums, food courts, restaurants and a banquet facility. But Wang recently scaled back the plans, scrapping the condo portion. The site remains empty, despite breaking ground twice since 2006.
Wang filed his cross-complaint against the city in September. In it, he alleges council members solicited bribes and deliberately impeded progress on his project.
In pre-trial documents, Wang said he was pressured to give $13,000 in unreported cash contributions to the campaigns of Wong and Capra and a third council candidate who lost in the March 2007 election.
He also charged that council members demanded a condominium and cash payments of $50,000 and $48,000 at various stages in the project's planning.
(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496
- La Jolla Light
By Walter Hofmann
Thanks to the Grand Jury system in California, democracy is alive and well in San Diego County.
To be on the Grand Jury is quite a commitment. I did it for a year from 2004 through 2005 - every day, at least six hours each day. Yep! For a whole year! A valuable, eye-opening experience.
By state law we were required to visit every jail in the county and to report on conditions we found there and make suggestions of any changes or improvements we felt were advisable and appropriate.
Any citizen can file a "complaint" with the Grand Jury on something they believe should be investigated. "Whistle-Blowing" at its best! Each of these requests is carefully evaluated for merit, value, and handled in a careful and serious way.
Now to talk of "democracy." This is individual rights at its best. Each of the 19 jurors has an equal voice and vote. No "boss" to look over your shoulder or "veto" your hard work. Long, thorough, intensive investigation is done through the work of various committees to look at all possible areas of concern.
Then deliberation is undertaken. Sometimes heated. But always with the intent of reaching a fair, reasonable, equitable recommendation that will benefit the community.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
By Colin McConville
New facility, more law enforcement but some suggestions go unheeded
Local residents can expect to see more police officers patrolling the streets and a new neighborhood watch program, as a result of the 2008 San Benito County grand jury report. Other issues brought up in the report, however, such as animal shelter hours are likely to remain unchanged due to budget cuts.
Grand jury foreman Roxy Montana said that outside input on the findings of the report are important. The report was released in July. City and county agencies investigated had until October to respond to the recommendations.
"The issues that are brought up are community issues," Montana said. "The city is just one cog in the wheel. There are outside people that are filled with passion for what they do."
Many of the city's responses to the grand jury's findings were simply "The City of Hollister and the Hollister Police Department agree with the finding" without an explanation of what the agencies planned to do with the recommendations.
"I think that generally, the grand jury puts a lot of energy into every inspection and issue," Montana said. "It's really important that the different agencies look at it from the point of the grand jury. Each year, some of the responses come back and it's like they are in denial."
Animal shelter hours remain issue
An ongoing concern for the grand jury has been the animal shelter hours of operation. The city staff's response to findings of unavailability to the "majority of the community" and being contrary to the state's Hayden Law was simply that they "disagree."
Though the new animal shelter facility, opened Nov. 8, fulfilled some of the recommendations of the grand jury, such as providing more space for animals and staff members, the operation hours remain the same.
"We've got this beautiful new shelter and things haven't changed a bit," said Vivian Kennedy, the ACGSR, Inc. president and founder.
The Hayden Law requires that animal shelters hold stray or abandoned animals for at least six days and that "shelters should be open during hours that permit working pet owners to redeem pets during nonworking hours," according to the state senate Web site. According to city staff, the shelter "holds animals a minimum of seven days before administering euthanasia, one day more than required by law."
Groups such as ACGSR, Inc. - formerly All Creatures Great and Small - disagree with the interpretation of the law.
"It's totally unavailable to the public," Kennedy said, since the hours are inconvenient even for people working in the city.
"I have to give credence to the shelter," Kennedy said. "Our shelter does try its best to hold animals longer than others."
Kennedy suggested a staggered lunch period that would allow the shelter to stay open between noon and 1 p.m.
"The city needs to look at other cities with animal shelters because when people fail, animals pay for it with their lives," Kennedy said.
Animal shelter supervisor Julie Carreiro said "that would be great if we could staff it," in regards to staying open over lunch. However, with a staff of four full-time employees, being open during the lunch period would be impossible.
"We can't operate with just one person," Carreiro said. "We're trying to do the best we can, but until the city can get us more people, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place."
The Hollister Police Department, which is in charge of operating the animal shelter, is in the process of hiring a clerical position for the animal shelter which will help with the availability of animal control officers, according to Chief Jeff Miller. With the set-up as it is, two officers are manning the shelter and one has to stay at the front desk at all times, but with a clerical assistant, there would be two officers to handle incoming animals or make field calls.
Crime prevention programs planned
The grand jury also found that Hollister lacks community programs to curb crime and has a lack of gang enforcement in city areas. In regard to community programs, city staff responded back by saying that the juvenile impact program has been reinstated. The juvenile impact program is a 10-week course that is focused on steering "at-risk" youths away from gangs, which is part of the police's prevention and intervention strategy. Done on weekends, the program emphasizes instruction, leadership and also has a physical component.
Other programs, such as a neighborhood watch, are also scheduled to be rolled out by June 30, 2010.
While the city is currently lacking such programs, Miller said that citizens are more than welcome to form a neighborhood watch of their own.
"Just because we don't have a neighborhood watch program, doesn't mean neighborhoods can't meet, be alert," Miller said.
He added that "if any neighborhood wants to form a neighborhood watch, someone from the police department will go to one of their meetings in an effort to encourage this."
To date, four neighborhoods have had meetings and Miller has attended them to guide them in their planning.
The county does offer neighborhood watch programs and does so with a limited staff, according to Undersheriff Pat Turturicci. He said, "the solution that we use is that we do have neighborhood watch programs." The program uses sergeants to set up in various communities in the county and supplements the programs with booklets, signs and forums to involve residents in reporting crimes.
Recently, a program was established at the Ridgemark development that helped in the apprehension of 10 juveniles who were burglarizing and vandalizing that community, according to Turturicci.
Other programs the sheriff's staff offer are a resident vacation program where deputies will check a residence twice in a 24-hour period when the house is unoccupied due to vacation; a gang suppression unit on the weekends; and two school resource officers that talk to students about the dangers of gangs. The officers also give and receive information from students.
Police staffing goes up
One of the findings of the grand jury is that the police department has fewer officers patrolling the community than they should. The city staff agreed with the finding and responded that they plan to hire more officers with Measure T funds. The measure, which increased sales tax to 8.25 percent to fund police and fire protection as well as balance the city's budget, will allow the city to hire eight more officers throughout the fiscal year 2009/10.
The grand jury used a formula that is used by the Justice Department to estimate how many officers the city should have that suggests that the "full-time officers per 1,000 residents is 1.8 full-time officers." According to the formula, Hollister should have 55 full-time officers.
While the department is not likely to reach that target, they will hire four officers for the remainder of this financial year and four in the next, Miller said. Of the officers hired, two will go straight to patrol duty, while the two others will become school beat officers. This is a new position with the city and was made possible through an agreement with the Hollister School District in which they paid $100,000 to go towards half of the salaries of the two officers, Miller said. Their main focus will be the schools and the surrounding areas, including crime, traffic and parking.
For fiscal year 2009/10, four more officers will be hired including another patrol officer and a detective. Another will be a unit officer that will head up the drug task force. The final position will be a personnel and community services sergeant that will help to reinstate the neighborhood watch program. Miller said he is big on prevention and "doing things that directly impact crime and crime prevention."
Friday, December 12, 2008
Posted: 12/12/2008 06:32:06 AM PST
Passing on making the decision herself, Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr is expected to ask a secret grand jury next week to determine whether a pair of San Jose cops criminally tried to cover up a former officer's dangerous drunken driving.
Carr's tactic appears to be an effort to remove the taint of bias from a decision about prosecuting fellow law enforcement officials. But critics said Carr may not be going far enough, because she has chosen not to follow the lead of her predecessor in opening such grand jury proceedings to public view.
Beginning Monday, sources said, prosecutors will lay out the controversial case of what supervising patrol Sgt. Will Manion and officer Patrick D'Arrigo did — and did not do — on the night of March 25 after Sandra Woodall crashed her Cadillac Escalade into two other cars, sending a teenager to the hospital.
Woodall is a former San Jose police officer who now works as an investigator with the district attorney's office.
Multiple sources told the Mercury News that officers and witnesses have been called to testify in the case. Prosecutors declined to comment this week about whether they might use a grand jury, on the grounds that such proceedings are secret (unless opened to the public by the district attorney).
There are a number of reasons Carr's office may have decided to go this relatively uncommon route. For example, the office as a policy brings all
officer-involved fatal shootings to grand juries to avoid the perception of bias. This case involves local cops allegedly trying to protect one of Carr's own employees.
But some suspect Carr's motivation was simply to avoid making a politically tough decision.
"It is a way of deflecting criticism regardless of the outcome," said Gerald F. Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University. Uelmen said indicting an officer can damage the normally cooperative relationship between prosecutors and police. And not indicting officers can generate public criticism of a double standard.
Uelmen and other critics said the secrecy of the proceeding would not allow the public to get a clear view of the evidence or its presentation by prosecutors. George Kennedy, Carr's predecessor as DA, opened up grand juries in at least two major cases: the fatal police shooting of a Vietnamese woman in 2003 and the shooting of a suspect by a state narcotics agent in 2005.
"It's important that as much transparency as possible be afforded to the process," San Jose Independent Police Auditor Barbara Attard said.
One key figure in the case is gratified that it's moving forward.
"It is passing the buck, but at least it's something,'' said the mother of the teenage girl injured in the accident. She asked not be identified for fear of retribution.
Craig Brown, a lawyer who represents both officers, declined to confirm or deny if the case was being brought before a grand jury.
He did say: "If there is anything that ought to be a subject of inquiry, it ought to be on an administrative basis — not a criminal basis. I don't think either of my clients did anything inappropriate''
The jury that will decide that question is generally made up of 19 empaneled county residents, a dozen of whom must vote to indict. They will wrestle with the legal question of whether there is enough evidence to suspect that Manion — a highly respected homicide investigator who had just returned to the patrol rotation — and veteran cop D'Arrigo tried to shield Woodall from facing drunken driving charges.
Witnesses said a belligerent and disoriented Woodall was openly admitting soon after the accident that she had been drinking. But both Manion and D'Arrigo said they saw no signs of intoxication. This despite the fact that medical personnel on the scene believed she was drunk and later told San Jose police investigators they felt Manion had tried to disrupt their attempts to determine her level of sobriety.
Later, at the hospital, D'Arrigo reportedly told the flabbergasted mother of the accident victim that it was too late to test Woodall for alcohol.
After questions arose about the initial accident investigation, the district attorney's office brought in the California attorney general's office to review the case. The attorney general's office eventually charged Woodall with felony drunken driving; she has pleaded not guilty.
A preliminary hearing for Woodall is set for early next year.
By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
In December 2005, Karen Olson testified against her boss during a local grand jury investigation.
At the time she was the second-highest-ranking prosecutor in Del Norte County and her superior was District Attorney Mike Riese.
She told the grand jury what she knew about Riese's handling of a financial elder abuse case in which he dismissed felony charges against the defendants in exchange for more than $400,000 in restitution, $100,000 of which went toward his office's budget.
The grand jury later admonished Riese for that, but he was not charged with a crime.
Olson also testified about her knowledge of Riese's billing practices when it came to seeking reimbursement from the state for managing Pelican Bay State Prison cases.
It is this testimony that Olson points to in a recently filed wrongful termination lawsuit as a significant turning point in her working relationship with Riese and as the beginning of the end of her employment in the District Attorney's Office.
She claims in her lawsuit filed in Del Norte County Superior Court that when Riese found out about her testimony, he told her that "her disloyalty would not go unanswered" and he then "set into motion a shocking and deplorable sequence of events aimed to maliciously discredit" Olson and "cause irreparable injury to her reputation."
Riese calls Olson's legal action nothing more than a series of personal attacks against him, some of which might cause the district attorney to go on the offensive.
"Anybody can make any allegation," Riese said. "She'll have to prove her allegations in court. And because her allegations are slanderous and libelous in nature with no merit, and she knows that, I plan on filing a suit against her."
Riese denied all the allegations in the lawsuit, but declined to address them in detail.
"Ms. Olson just wants to attack me because she was fired," he said.
In Olson's 46-page complaint, accompanied by more than 50 pages of exhibits, she alleges everything from wrongful termination to civil conspiracy. She contends Riese plotted to have her fired and to defame her. Among other things, she claims he confiscated her computer and planted incriminating documents on it, and urged the California Highway Patrol to investigate her as the person who leaked information to a suspect in an unsolved two-year-old fatal hit-and-run case.
"This is a fellow who has decided he is going to make his own law and make the rules up as he goes," said Olson's attorney, Michael Rains of Pleasant Hill. "Rather than being the district attorney, I think he's proclaimed himself the king."
While the lawsuit against Riese and the county seeks an indeterminate amount of monetary damages, Rains — whose list of clients also includes former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds — said it's more important to inform the public about Riese's alleged improprieties and hold him accountable.
"What we hope to achieve," Rains said, "is an airing of these events in a forum where we have a fair opportunity to tell the county what kind of man this is."
He added that this is what his client attempted to do while she was the chief deputy district attorney, but when she tried to blow the whistle she was systematically retaliated against.
The lawsuit states that while Olson was on maternity leave in 2006 and again less than a year later when she was placed on administrative leave, Riese told one of his investigators to take her computer to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force in Humboldt County to do a forensic examination of the hard drive "for the purpose of finding evidence of criminal activity."
Olson claims that before these incidents, the hard drive of her work computer was swapped with another one that contained many documents that were "hidden," meaning the files were not visible to her.
Rains said that both times Riese ordered these technological audits he was on a "fishing expedition" searching for a reason to fire Olson. He added that the only way Riese could have the authority to have the Computer Crimes Task Force do this was by claiming Olson was performing criminal activities using her computer.
"That was the only way Mike Riese could get the forensic analysis done," Rains said. "He had to allege some violations of the law or they (the Computer Crimes Task Force) weren't going to do it."
Another instance of alleged reprisal came when Riese linked Olson's name to a leak in a hit-and-run fatality investigation.
In August 2007, California Highway Patrol officials revealed a person involved in law enforcement notified the only suspect in the Josh Lacy case that he was the focus of the investigation.
Lacy was a 15-year-old Del Norte High School student who struck and killed by a vehicle while he was crossing U.S. Highway 101 in January 2007. The person who was behind the wheel is still a mystery.
According to Olson's complaint, Riese, with the help of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, told California Highway Patrol investigators that she informed a suspect about "case sensitive information" that could have hindered the investigation.
In the lawsuit, Olson claims that this suspect's testimony during a termination appeal hearing contradicted what was in the report forwarded to the California Highway Patrol, and that she "did not give him any case sensitive information."
Riese placed Olson on administrative leave in May 2007 shortly after The Triplicate published stories regarding her attempt to dismiss a colleague's speeding ticket. Shortly after that, he informed her of his notice to terminate her employment.
Olson fought her firing, and the county held an informal hearing regarding her termination over the summer. Her termination was upheld Sept. 4, 2007.
A subsequent county administrative hearing regarding Olson's termination is now under way, and a decision in this matter is pending.
Reach Nicholas Grube at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
A San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury is probing allegations of sloppy evidence protection by law enforcement and reviewing procedures currently being used by the Sheriff’s Department to protect evidentiary integrity.
Sources with detailed knowledge of the Grand Jury’s investigation said the panel is examining specific systems of storage to determine if evidence slated for use in court proceedings is properly protected, and that the “chain of custody” -- a demonstrable sequence of possession -- is constantly maintained.
State law requires that the evidence "room must be secure from unauthorized entry," with materials consisting ideally of concrete block "with both the cealing and the floors being impervious to entry," according to The California Commission on POST Property Evidence Management Guide. Because evidence can be used in court, the chain of custody is required to be scrupulously handled with very few individuals in the law enforcement system permitted access.
Prosecution of criminal cases already adjudicated or in progress could be adversely impacted if a pattern of breaks in the custodial chain could be demonstrated.
Practices at the sheriff’s Coast Station in Los Osos have raised special concerns. Materials gathered as evidence at crime scenes and placed in that satellite office are stored adjacent to the weapons locker, and both areas are easily accessible to numerous individuals with keys, said sources. Deputies stationed at Coast patrol from Avila Beach to San Simeon, and from Los Padres mountain range to the ocean.
Sheriff Pat Hedges declined comment, noting that “it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any Grand Jury investigation or report.”
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn said the Grand Jury was interested in staffing issues pertaining to the security of evidence locker systems.
SLO County’s Grand Jury examines and reports on administrative and government matters, and does not deal with criminal issues. Topics and details of the panel’s investigations are generally a closely-held secret until public dissemination of the annual report occurs in the spring.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Published: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 1:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 3:45 p.m.
The Sonoma City Council was criticized Tuesday by the Sonoma County grand jury for creating a conflict of interest when it canceled the Nov. 4 municipal election.
While not illegal, the grand jury said the council’s decision was “cavalier” and only contributes to growing fear and concern in America today regarding the “efficacy and validity of the political process.”
The City Council in August voted 3-2 to cancel the election after only two people met the deadline to run for two open seats on the council.
One of those running was incumbent Mayor Joanne Sanders, who cast the deciding vote, despite the council being informed at least one person had communicated the intent to run as a write-in candidate.
Although write-in candidates are rarely victorious, they have a traditional opportunity to participate in elections and the rules allowed for them to file to run until Oct. 21.
“The point is not whether a write-in candidate would have been successful in the election. The point is that a decision to eliminate such an important right should not have been made by the vote of a person who directly benefits from it,” the grand jury said in its report released Tuesday.
Sanders said Tuesday she was pleased that the grand jury investigation found that she and the council “were fully compliant” with the law.
But she questioned the timing of the release of the report, on the eve of her swearing-in tomorrow, when she could potentially be re-named to the one-year post of mayor.
And Sanders said she never was interviewed by the grand jury.
“There really wasn’t any opportunity for me to put my perspective in,” she said.
In August, just before the council voted to cancel the municipal election, they heard from a number of speakers, some of whom said the election should proceed, and others who urged a cancellation to save the estimated $7,000 to $8,000 election cost.
“I knew nothing about the write-in process prior to the issue,” Sanders said. In retrospect, she said she might have voted differently and allowed the election to go forward.
“In the end, I had to make my decision and I take my lumps,” she said.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The Kern County grand jury released a report Tuesday giving an overview of operations at Wasco State Prison.
The only recommendations for improvement were to better secure and handle discarded prescriptions and install security cameras in the pharmacy.
In recent weeks the jury has also released reports on local cities’ bidding procedures and compliance with federal laws regarding the legal eligibility for employees to work in the United States.
The jury also has released reports on the Tehachapi Public Cemetery District and Edison Elementary School District.
You can read the reports here.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
by Bob Geiss
The grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court. You bet it is. For over 100 years,
- ...”judicial bodies”,
- ...”instrumentalities of the courts”,
- ...”arms of the court”(Citations omitted).
But recent, and not so recent, legislation and the agreements thereto by the Superior Courts puts our grand jury system in serious jeopardy.
“Arms of the court?”, we better hedge that bet. Actions taken by the legislature, and agreed to and lauded by the courts, have cast doubts on whole grand jury and superior court relationship. The initial rupture in the relationship between courts and the grand jury occurred with the passage of the first Brown-Presley Trail Court Funding Act in 1993. The act is now enshrined as Government Code §§ 77000 and following. Specifically, GC§ 77003(a)(7) specifically excludes ...”grand jury expenses and operations” from allowable court expenses.. Subsequently, the Lockyer-Isenberg Trial Court Funding Act of 1997 made no changes to this exclusion.
The Judicial Council of California issued a Rule of Court in 1998. The rule was a response to the Brown-Presley Act. It excluded grand juries from the definition of court operations and ruled that “civil and criminal grand jury expenses were...unallowable.” The most recent 2008 Rules of Court, “Rule 10.810 Court Operations” again specifically excludes grand juries from a definition of court operations (Rule 10.810 (b)Exclusions(6))
Until these acts were passed, grand juries were consistently views as “arms of the court” and the superior courts, which impaneled and “supervised” the grand juries. The courts used their inherent authority to paper over the gaps created by minimal and often ambiguous grand jury statutes. The laws have been incomplete, inconsistent, and confusing for years, but had little adverse consequence to the operations of most grand juries because the grand juries, the courts and other legal advisers have made up local rules as they went along. It seems to have worked acceptably. Patchwork statutes, occasional appellate guidance and local judicial interest and intervention at the county level has given us the system that works acceptably for the state today. 58 counties, 58 approaches.
Where do these rulings, definitions and legislation put grand juries in the future? Apparently afloat, and maybe sinking, on a sea of uncertainty. The actions, or inactions, by the Judicial Council of Superior Court in response to the legislative acts cited above, seemingly have put the whole grand jury status into limbo. By statute, we are excluded from and are not defined in court operations. Each county’s grand jury is dependent on the county bodies they are mandated to investigate for the funds they need to operate. Before, we had at least the tacit backing of the Superior Courts in negotiating budgets with our local counties. According to the government code, that backing does not exist. I can imagine that state-wide budget exigencies will make grand juries operations take significant hits in the upcoming years - to the detriment of much needed civilian oversight.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
State Supreme Court Limits Access to Grand Jury Materials
Ruling Is Setback to Man Who Spent 24 Years in Prison for Killing
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Trial courts have no inherent authority to grant discovery of grand jury materials for use in a lawsuit, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Reversing Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal, the justices said Thomas Goldstein, who is suing former county officials for false imprisonment, can only obtain grand jury transcripts related to his case if they show that witnesses gave conflicting testimony at this trial.
Goldstein spent 24 years in prison on a first degree murder conviction before a federal judge found that exculpatory evidence had been withheld from his attorneys. He was convicted largely on the testimony of Loran Campbell and Edward Floyd Fink,
Campbell identified Goldstein as the shooter, but retracted that identification 20 years later and claimed that he testified as he did because police told him Goldstein was guilty and he wanted to be a good citizen. Fink, a cellmate who denied receiving anything in exchange for his testimony, said Goldstein told him he was in jail because he shot a man in a dispute over money.
Misuse of Informants
Years later, a Los Angeles County grand jury concluded that county prosecutors had long misused the testimony of jailhouse informants who obtained information about crimes from other sources and then falsely attributed confessions to their cellmates in exchange for favors. Prosecutors, the grand jury said, showed a “deliberate and informed declination to take the action necessary to curtail the misuse of jailhouse informant testimony.”
The magistrate judge who recommended that Goldstein’s habeas corpus petition be granted found that “Fink fits the profile of the dishonest jailhouse informant that the Grand Jury Report found to be highly active in Los Angeles County at the time of [Goldstein’s] conviction.”
Goldstein subsequently sued the City of Long Beach, four current or former police officers, Los Angeles County, former District Attorney John Van de Kamp, and former Chief Deputy District Attorney Curt Livesay.
His federal complaint says police used “false and fabricated evidence,” including a jailhouse informant’s made-up claim of a confession, to convict him of the 1979 shotgun murder of John McGinest.
In March of last year, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Van de Kamp and Livesay lack absolute prosecutorial immunity. The allegation that they failed to failed to protect against the possibility of cases being prosecuted by lawyers who were unaware of promises made by their colleagues to informants deals with administrative functions to which absolute immunity does not attach, the federal panel ruled.
Goldstein moved that grand jury materials related to the informant investigation be disclosed to him for use in the suit. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza denied the motion, reasoning that none of the statutes permitting public release of grand jury materials applied, and that he thus could not order disclosure for purposes of a lawsuit, even under a protective order.
Public Disclosure Precluded
The Court of Appeal disagreed. The panel held that while the statutes precluded broad public disclosure of the transcripts, the courts had inherent authority to order their release for the limited purpose of litigation “to redress an injustice investigated by the grand jury.”
But Justice Carol Corrigan, writing for the high court, said the traditional strictures against disclosure of grand jury testimony apply to materials sought by private litigants.
The justice cited Daily Journal Corp. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1117, and McClatchy Newspapers v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1162, in which the high court rejected arguments that disclosure of grand jury transcripts could be ordered, without a specific statutory basis, in order to further the public interest.
“If the courts had broad inherent authority to release grand jury materials to litigants in the interests of justice, there would be no need for the statutes permitting disclosure in limited circumstances,” the justice wrote. “We have not distinguished between public and private disclosure. Indeed, we relied on the statutes governing disclosure to litigants to support our holdings restricting public disclosure in both McClatchy and Daily Journal.”
Corrigan went on, however, to say that Goldstein may be able to obtain disclosure under Panel Code Sec. 924.2, which the Court of Appeal found inapplicable. That section, dating back to the 1850s, before grand jury proceedings were transcribed, provides in part that “[a]ny court may require a grand juror to disclose the testimony of a witness examined before the grand jury, for the purpose of ascertaining whether it is consistent with that given by the witness before the court....”
The justice explained:
“To preserve the narrow scope of the statute, the appropriate procedure is for the witness to testify first. Counsel may then request the court to examine the transcript of that witness’s grand jury testimony in camera, to determine if it provides potentially relevant impeachment material. If it does, the court may release the relevant pages to counsel, with a protective order restricting the use of the material to impeachment.
We leave it for the superior court and the federal district court, with the cooperation of the parties, to sort out additional appropriate procedures for providing Goldstein with access to the testimony of grand jury witnesses under section 924.2, should he seek that limited form of disclosure.”
The opinion was joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Marvin Baxter, Kathryn M. Werdegar, and Ming Chin.
Kennard also authored a concurring opinion, suggesting that trial courts may, in the absence of statutory authority, order disclosure of grand jury materials based on a showing of “absolute necessity,” a showing Goldstein did not claim to make.
Justice Carlos Moreno, concurring separately, also endorsed an “absolute necessity” exception, under which a litigation would be required to show “(1) that the information sought is necessary to prosecute his or her claim; (2) that the information cannot reasonably be obtained through the usual means of civil discovery short of resorting to grand jury materials...(3) that granting the request will not undermine the essential functions of grand jury secrecy, including that of ensuring that the disclosures will not chill the testimony of future grand jury witnesses; (4) that the request is narrowly tailored to accomplish these ends.”
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Ronald O. Kaye of Kaye, McLane & Bednarski for Goldstein; Principal Deputy County Counsel Gordon W. Trask for the grand jury, and Douglas Fee of Collins, Collins, Muir & Stewart for the county, Van de Kamp, and Livesay.
The case is Goldstein v. Superior Court (Grand Jury of Los Angeles County), 08 S.O.S. 6184.
Monday, November 3, 2008
District Supervisor speaks out on Measure B
Williams says measure would be a benefit to county residents
Bob Williams has no doubt where he stands on Measure B and doesn’t hold back in speaking his mind on the subject.
Said Williams, a Tehama County Supervisor for District 4, “The way Tehama County supervisors receive a salary increase is something that for the last 15 years I have personally felt we needed to change.”
And he is in complete support for Measure B, which would amend the Tehama County Charter concerning supervisor salary increases. If it receives voters approval Measure B would allow the Board of Supervisors, in any odd-numbered year, to request that the Tehama County Grand Jury investigate the possibility of allowing the supervisors an increase in salary. The board of supervisors would be limited to acceptance or rejection of the Grand Jury’s recommendation without modification.
“My opinion on this measure is that it is a fair way to set the salary for the supervisors because it is done by the grand jury which is an independent cross section of the community,” Williams said.
The Tehama County Grand Jury consists of 19 residents of the county who are selected annually, and is an arm of the court system. Tehama County Counsel William Murphy referred to the Grand Jury as the public’s “watchdog” of local government.
The current county charter, adopted in 1988, set the county supervisors’ salary at $1,045 a month, plus benefits (same as county employees), $500 vehicle allowance, $25 road inspection fee and $25 if they attend a Flood Control and Conservation District Board meeting.
“My thought on the whole thing is that the voters need a choice,” said Williams. “During the last election three incumbents run unopposed. I’ve talked to people over the last15 year who I thought would be good supervisors and most of them said they couldn’t afford to run.”
Similar ballot measures in 2000 and 2002 were defeated by voters, and if Measure B is defeated a salary increase for supervisors will continue to come only through a vote of people.
“Voters need to understand, with the salary as it currently is business owners would have to hire someone to take their place while serving the county. At the current supervisor’s salary they couldn’t’ afford to do it,” Williams said.
He explained full-time employees would have to quite jobs to serve as a supervisor.
“I spend 40 to 60 hours a week working as a supervisor. I serve on 20 committees, as do most of the other supervisors. It’s a full-time job, but the salary definitely isn’t enough to support a family,” Williams said. “I’m not supporting this measure for myself. I won’t even affect me unless I run for office again
He explained Measure B isn’t about him or the other current supervisors.
“This measure is about the future of the county and giving the voters a good choice as to who will make decisions for this county,” Williams said. “One of my greatest fears is that in an election year when no one runs for supervisor a one-issue person will at one-minute-to-five on the last day to file for election would lay down their paper work and become the next supervisor. The citizens of Tehama County deserve better than that.”
Tehama County has the lowest supervisor salary in the state, according to Williams.
Glenn County supervisor’s monthly salary is $2,446 plus benefits and Colusa County supervisor’s monthly salary is $1,800 plus benefits.
Williams said in Lake County, where supervisors are paid $3,498 monthly plus benefits, five people ran for one seat on the board of supervisors.
By Claudette LangleyPosted: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:38 AM CDT
The 2007-08 grand jury report released in July put the county’s then Community Development Agency director, Stephanie Moreno, her agency and the Board of Supervisors under scrutiny with a series of allegations about misconduct and mismanagement. Only a lone resident showed Tuesday to register an official objection as the board considered approving the county’s written response to the grand jury.
“We are being urged by Supervisors (Tom) Tryon and (Merita) Callaway, to believe that this whole mess is over and that it is time to, proverbially, move on,” said Joyce Techel, reading from a letter from the Community Action Project. “As citizens, we are left wondering what is over, why it is over and how to move on.”
Thursday, October 30, 2008
LATHROP - Mayor Kristy Sayles, 35, has asked the San Joaquin County grand jury to investigate what many, including her opponents, consider the dirtiest political campaign since the city was incorporated in 1989.
Sayles and her primary challengers for mayor all have denounced the tactics, which largely involve a Web site devoted to attacking Sayles and divulging personal matters from her past. The charges have delved into her marital status and decade-old legal issues.
Sayles called it "evil" and "vicious."
Challenger Robert Oliver, a current council member, said it was "scurrilous" and said he would have it shut down if he could. Mayoral candidate John Rock called it "mean-spirited" and said its viciousness reminds him of domestic battles.
Yet Oliver and Rock say to some extent Sayles has brought the problems on herself.
In some respects, Sayles agrees.
The attacks on Sayles began even before she officially filed her re-election papers in August.
Sayles said she received an e-mail from someone claiming to be her friend telling her what would happen if she ran for a second term. She said the threats are coming true.
The majority of the attacks have come via the Web site kristysayles.com. It is registered to a licensed private investigator in Livermore, Jeremy D. Maurer. The site went live in July.
Sayles believes she knows who is funding the site, although she refused name anyone in particular. She has said she believes large developers in Lathrop are the only ones with the finances to do so.
Although Maurer did not return calls seeking comment, he has maintained on the Web site that he was not hired to create the site but sees it as a way to gain a name for himself as an "opposition researcher" for future campaigns.
He said he chose Sayles after hearing from friends in Lathrop and Manteca about what he termed scandalous activities involving the mayor.
Maurer has focused on digging up records mostly tied to Sayles' past financial problems and her husband's business. The viciousness often comes in the form of comments posted by people visiting the site.
Rock, who has posted there as well, said he sees anger and hate in some of the Web postings. He also believes they involve only a handful of people using multiple aliases.
At the same time, Rock sees some positives. "People are getting involved," he said, and the site is getting information out about the candidate.
Sayles, a fifth-generation Lathrop resident, has six children. Steve McKee, a popular former Lathrop mayor, is her uncle.
In May, she was cleared by the county grand jury of accusations that she had illegally received financial contributions from developers and of "unspecified unethical actions since her election."
Sayles also has been attacked personally through a more traditional route. A recent mailer to Lathrop's 4,400 registered voters also focused on Sayles' past. A group calling itself the California Taxpayer Protection Committee included photos of court papers that also are on the Web site.
The committee lists an Elverta address, and its Web site describes the group as "a loose-knit organization of individual volunteers and affiliated groups who believe that government spending is out of control, taxes are too high and new borrowing is not the answer."
The California Republican Party is listed as one of the organization's members. Although the mayor's race is nonpartisan, Sayles, Oliver and Rock all are Republicans.
Oliver believes some of the campaign nastiness is coming from the mayor, such as a Sayles mailer that attacked "local developers" as those who "would use the Lathrop General Fund as their personal ATM machine."
The mailer alleges those developers hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on her and recruited a candidate to run against her. The challenging candidate has not been identified.
Contact reporter Harley Becker at (209) 239-3354 or email@example.com.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
SAN ANDREAS - Several years of bitter feuding within Calaveras County government over the management of the county's Building and Planning departments appeared to come to a quiet end Tuesday as the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved their response to a grand jury report that had blasted the supervisors and the leader they appointed to head the two departments.
Supervisor Tom Tryon, who filed a complaint to the grand jury in 2007 that likely triggered the investigation and the resulting report, did not say a word on the topic before the unanimous vote.
The long battle centered on Stephanie Moreno, a former Amador County supervisor who was hired in 2006 to head the newly formed Community Development Agency, which was given oversight of both departments.
Moreno resigned in July after a stormy tenure of a little more than two years. The Board of Supervisors voted to pay Moreno $89,300 to leave after her attorney sent the board a letter saying he could prove county officials were guilty of sex discrimination against her.
Officials in 2006 portrayed Moreno's hiring as an attempt to modernize the operation of the two departments and to reduce problems caused when developers and landowners got conflicting signals from building and planning.
Moreno soon hired consultants who reported finding a variety of past problems in the departments, including missing records and evidence that officials sometimes signed off on substandard construction. By early 2007, Moreno had fired several employees.
Also by 2007, some department employees were in revolt against Moreno, and landowners, builders and developers were coming to county meetings to complain that Moreno's policies were making things worse rather than better.
Adding to their ire: Moreno's political and career background included none of the formal training in planning or building codes that is usual among career employees in the departments.
That lack of formal training in building and planning was among the long list of findings in the grand jury report. (The official response says she did meet the minimum standards for the job.) Other findings included that the Board of Supervisors hired Moreno without doing a background check and that they had her report directly to the board, bypassing the normal chain of command through the county's chief administrative officer.
A slender board majority - Steve Wilensky, Russ Thomas and Bill Claudino - generally backed Moreno. Tryon, often joined by Supervisor Merita Callaway, took the lead in criticizing Moreno.
In general, the response the board approved Tuesday rejects most of the grand jury findings. Opponents of Moreno, however, will find some evidence to bolster their suspicions. For example, County Administrative Officer Robert Lawton's final draft of the response notes only that the county's Human Resources Department did complete a background check.
What Lawton didn't say is contained in the departmental response from Human Resources Director Francine Osborn. Osborn wrote that she conducted a basic background check and found Moreno had worked where she claimed to have worked. But Osborn also said the Board of Supervisors directed her not to do the more-detailed check she thought was appropriate.
The supervisors who did speak before approving the response were unusually subdued.
"There is nothing more to stir up," Callaway said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's over, and it is time to go on."
The new days to come, however, will likely force the board to decide again what its vision is for the Building and Planning departments. Not only are county planners revising the county General Plan, which guides growth, but before the end of the year, interim Community Development Director John Taylor is to make recommendations to the board on how to manage the two departments, including whether they should remain united in a single agency.
Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 754-9534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 07:00 AM
San Andreas, CA -- Tuesday Calaveras County supervisors responded to a grand jury report that had criticized them and the now departed Stephanie Moreno who headed up the Community Development Agency which had oversight over the Planning and Building departments.
According to the Stockton Record that response resulted in a unanimous vote rejecting the grand jury findings. Under fire by builders, developers and two supervisors (Russ Thomas and Marita Callaway), Moreno resigned in July but not before she was compensated in the amount of $89,300.
John Taylor replaced Moreno on an interim basis and he has been charged with recommending to the Board by the end of the year how the Community Development Agency should be structured for maximum benefit to and for the county.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
A financial dispute between two Madera County government agencies took far too long to resolve, a Madera County grand jury report has concluded.
The report, which was made public this week, says that it took more than seven years for the county Treasurer and Tax Collector Department and the county Board of Education to untangle a financial snafu dating back to the 1990s. In the end, the Treasurer Department last year paid the Education Board $91,322.
The grand jury found that "it is unacceptable that unresolved issues between two or more departments of the Madera County government cannot be resolved within a reasonable time. In this particular case, seven-plus years is not a reasonable time."
But Sally Frazier, the superintendent of the county Office of Education, said the disagreement was actually resolved more than two years ago.
"I was kind of perplexed that it was even an issue this year," she said.
Frazier said the county was not aware of the fact that the Treasurer Department owed the Education Board any money until an audit uncovered the discrepancy. She said she doesn't remember when the audit was conducted.
The two county departments went to court to reach an agreement soon after the audit, Frazier said.
According to the grand jury report, the problem began in 1992 when a county employee in charge of reconciling the Education Board's bank accounts retired and no one replaced the employee. When the board changed banks sometime in 1995 or 1996, it discovered that the accounts did not reconcile and it needed additional funds to cover outstanding checks.
The Treasurer Department helped bail out the Education Board, which later repaid the Treasurer Department, Frazier said. The audit discovered that the Education Board had overpaid the Treasurer Department, she said.
Frazier said no one from the grand jury contacted her office this year about its investigation. Calls to the number listed for the grand jury were not returned.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
OAKLAND — An Alameda County grand jury has requested travel documentation for all city employees, as city-funded travel faces heightened scrutiny as officials stare at a massive budget deficit.
The grand jury isn't the only body scrutinizing city travel: the City Council's finance and management committee will review a report today that says city-funded travel and travel-related expenditures topped $1.2 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year.
Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who said there are far too few controls on travel for nonelected officials, welcomed the grand jury's interest.
"I absolutely believe it's not acceptable," he said, adding, "At this moment, I can tell you this is one of the first things we're going to be looking to cut."
De La Fuente and other council members acknowledge, however, that reducing travel will only put a small dent in what could be a $50 million budget deficit. The council's first meeting on the pending budget cuts is scheduled for Sept. 30.
The Alameda County Civil Grand Jury's request, which was dated Sept. 4 and obtained by the Tribune, asks for "complete documentation for travel for every city employee" for the 2007-08 fiscal year, including receipts for hotel stays, meals, plane tickets and rental cars.
The grand jury requested the documents be produced no later than Monday and Paul Rose, a spokesman for Mayor Ron Dellums, said the documents were given to the grand jury on time.
Jeff Stark, a senior deputy district attorney assigned to the grand jury, could not be reached for comment Monday evening. The civil grand jury is designed to be a local government watchdog by investigating county and local governments and making recommendations on how to make them more efficient and responsive to residents.
A separate grand jury report, released in July, ripped the city of Oakland for what it described as a lax credit-card system and made a series of recommendations on how to tighten up expenditures. Dellums responded by ordering a complete review of the city's credit-card program.
Travel, meanwhile, has been in the council's sights since last summer when it adopted new rules on reporting travel, including publishing an annual report detailing expenditures for trips including airplane travel or lodging paid for by the city.
The report, completed by the city's budget director, Sarah Schlenk, and released earlier this month, does not suggest any wrongdoing. But it did find that more than $1.2 million was spent on travel last year, with more than $750,000 coming from the city's general fund of about $475 million.
The report shows:
Brooks said the trip was authorized by her fellow council members and said she went on it because of a long-standing sister-city relationship with Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, which was also represented at the conference.
Brooks' said her past work with Sekondi-Takoradi has included visiting as part of a trade delegation, hosting a delegation from the city in Oakland and sending supplies, including an ambulance, to the city.
There seems to be broad agreement among council members that city trips should be curbed.
Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) said expenses such as travel should be on the "chopping block for first cut" with the city facing a budget situation that will force it to make painful decisions.
Such reductions, she said, "are usually small potatoes in the whole picture, but we may as well make cuts in these areas before we start laying people off."
Dellums' office had a different take.
"During these tight economic times, travel is even more a necessity as we are actively reaching out to our partners across the country to bolster our resources and improve our city," Rose said. "Having said that, we're working to tighten our belts by identifying travel expenditures that don't necessarily meet that criteria."
The City Council's finance and management committee will discuss travel expenses when it meets at 2 p.m. today at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in Hearing Room 1.
The Idyllwild Fire Protection District has refuted the majority of recommendations of the Riverside County grand jury and argued against becoming part of the Riverside County Fire Department and Cal Fire.
The district filed a formal response to the grand jury report, disputing the claim that the fire district was dependent on outside resources in a high risk area.
The grand jury recommended the district should explore contracting with the state agency, Cal Fire, to reduce risks to mountain residents in a major emergency.
Riverside County contracts with Cal Fire for fire protection and state resources. Idyllwild has a mutual-aid agreement for assistance from Riverside County and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Idyllwild Fire Protection District contracts with Riverside County for 911 dispatch services. Idyllwild then provides its own fire and medical response to local incidents.
"The Board does not agree that the grand jury premise is valid," according to the response by Idyllwild Fire Protection Board President Glen McWilliams. "It would suggest that Cal Fire take over all fire and medical aid services for the entire state."
The response added that the grand jury's recommendation contradicts a California law that provides for fire protection districts.
The board agreed to a recommendation to meet with the Riverside County Fire Department, but said the proposal was rejected several times during past meetings because Cal Fire's medical and fire services were more costly to Idyllwild residents.
"While it is the Board's position that it will do what is best for the safety of the community . . . (it) believes that instead of advocating the abdication of local control over to the state of California, the grand jury would be better to encourage the existing agencies to work together to improve service."
Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle said the Fire Department is arranging to meet with Riverside County officials.
Riverside County fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said he was unaware of any requests or recommendations with the Idyllwild district.
By contracting with Cal Fire, Riverside County is allowed access to statewide fire crews, aircraft and equipment in exchange for mutual aid to other regions.
For example, Riverside County has sent several crews to the fires in ther San Fernando Valley, Herrera said.
"Certainly there are advantages to the fire family's large resource capability, but I can't speak to what Idyllwild is looking for," Herrera said.
Kunkle said Idyllwild residents have voted for the district with a $1.7 million budget, and few residents have requested a change. He said a Cal Fire contract would cost more and would be unnecessary given the current status of Idyllwild ambulances and fire protection.
"We hear residents are happy with the service," Kunkle said. "I'd rather see more and more resources all the time. For small fires, our resources are adequate, but no agency is able to fight fires on their own."
Other grand jury comments accused Fire Department personnel of intimidation, citing firefighters dressed in uniform at town meetings and fire trucks parked near homes for long periods of time.
The Fire Department's response said fire personnel regularly attend business meetings in uniform to look professional and the issue of fire trucks was never brought to the fire chief's attention.
Kunkle said he answered several questions from the grand jury prior to the report but did not know who requested the investigation or what experts were consulted.
"Given the lack of any specific information contained in this finding, it is virtually impossible to respond, other than to say that neither the Fire Department nor the commission has attempted to intimidate anyone or condone such conduct," the board's response read.
The Fire Department was required to respond to the recommendations but is not required by law to adhere to the findings.
Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or jasbury@PE.com
Thursday, October 9, 2008
By: Holly Angeles and Gabriel Orendain-Necochea
Southwestern College got a report card from the San Diego County Grand Jury. It was less then satisfactory. The SWC Governing Board was the subject of intense scrutiny by the Grand Jury, which issued a report criticizing board members for micromanagement and unethical behavior. The Grand Jury criticism mirrored a 2004 report by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) that told the governing board it needed to stop micromanaging and entrust the president and vice-presidents with more authority.Grand Jury members said SWC has developed a reputation for having a revolving door for its presidents. Of the last four presidents, two resigned and the others were dismissed due to conflicts with the board. SWC's vice-presidents have played musical chairs as well. Three vice-presidents resigned and one was terminated by the end of the 2008 spring semester. The Grand Jury report said two of the three vice-presidents either resigned or were dismissed due to interference by the board. This instability in management and inconsistency contributed to the low morale of faculty and students, according to the WASC report. Ethical violations and conflicts of interest by board members were also cited by the Grand Jury, including a romantic relationship between trustee Yolanda Salcido and Director of Business Operations and Facilities John Wilson. The report states Salcido never recused herself on votes regarding costly major projects brought forth by Wilson. Nor has she has recused herself in votes regarding Wilson's scope of responsibility, salary and benefit increases. Also under scrutiny was the intertwined relationship of trustee Jorge Dominguez and former Vice President of Academic Affairs Greg Sandoval. Dominguez serves as an SWC board member and works as an administrator for the Sweetwater Union High School District. Sandoval is a Sweetwater trustee, making the men each other's boss.The Grand Jury report stated that this has created a reciprocal relationship, which might have led to both officials voting on items benefiting each other. The report also said, though, that Sandoval and Dominguez recused themselves when voting on items regarding each other. Dominguez, however, voted against Sandoval's resignation at the June meeting of the SWC board. Dominguez said if a vote were to come up again, he would henceforth recuse himself. Legal expenses at SWC have soared due to the retention of outside legal counsel for all personal controversies, including the firing of high-level administrators. Even so, the Grand Jury is to deliberate to determine if it is in the best interest of the board and the public for an attorney to be present to oversee the actions of the board at every open meeting and to witness interviews of employee candidates. The Grand Jury also proposed creating an Education Ethics Committee to oversee the county's community colleges. Under the proposal, San Diego County's five community college districts would pool funds to staff an ethics committee that would have oversight over the actions of the districts, investigate ethics violations and establish appropriate penalties for wrongful actions. SWC's board rejected the proposal.The Grand Jury is now looking to the San Diego County Board of Education to direct the San Diego County Office of Education to establish the committee. Its first task would be to develop a code of ethics for all community college districts like that adopted by the Ethics Commission of the City of San Diego. The proposed Education Ethics Committee would be made up of 10 members, five of which would be appointed officials from the community college districts and the others from the County Board Of Education. These officials would rule on conflicts of interest and other ethical problems.SWC trustee Dr. Jean Roesch commented on the report at the South Bay forum. "This Grand Jury report came out as a very disgruntled person who wanted to say some things and it got out of hand," said Roesch.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Measure B, which would abolish the elected positions of Marin County auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector, will take effect if a majority of Marin voters approve it on Nov. 4.
The grand jury's endorsement, however, comes with one caveat: that the finance director be hired under a long-term contract to help insulate him or her from influence by county supervisors, to whom the employee will answer.
There is nothing in Measure B that would require such a contract.
"There is nothing that would preclude the Board of Supervisors from doing that," said County Administrator Matthew Hymel, who recommended the restructuring to supervisors this summer. "But we didn't think it should be put into the legislation because there are circumstances where that may not be in the best interests of the county."
The League of Women Voters of Marin County has also recently decided to support Measure B. The restructuring still has opponents, however, among them the Marin United Taxpayers Association and the county's current auditor-controller, Richard Arrow.
"I truly believe in transparency, accountability and especially the checks and balances in government that an elected official provides," Arrow said.
The grand jury's reasons for supporting the restructuring followedclosely the rationale previously cited by Hymel.
First of all, the separate operation of the two departments has become a barrier to the full utilization of the county's expensive new MERIT computer system, which has already cost the county at least $20 million. Secondly, the timing is right, because Arrow has announced he will retire effective Dec. 31, and the treasurer-tax collector, Michael Smith, has said he will not seek re-election when his term ends in 2010. And thirdly, if the director of finance is an appointed position, job candidates will not have to reside in Marin County, as elected officials do. That will make it easier for the county to recruit a top-flight candidate.
In its report, the grand jury notes that in addition to accounting skills the new finance director will also require "a solid grounding in the technological tools available to make financial management more efficient and cost effective."
The grand jury largely discounts the cost savings argument for the restructuring. Hymel has estimated the consolidation should save the county about $100,000 per year. The grand jury reports that it "was told that initial savings, even if realized, would most likely be offset by increased costs in implementing the proposal."
In its report, the grand jury states that it is fully persuaded that consolidation of the two offices makes sense. "The issue of whether a new office of director of finance should be elective or appointive is more complex, with strong arguments on both sides," the jury observes.
Currently, the auditor-controller and the treasurer-tax collector, as elected officials, are independent of the Board of Supervisors and serve watchdog functions on supervisors' activity, the grand jury notes. The jury's report recalls how in 2000 Arrow took away a former supervisor's county credit card that had been used for personal expenses and established formal regulations for future credit card use.
"The appointed individual would be hired by and responsible to the Board of Supervisors, which would put him in a delicate position," said Fielding Greaves, president of the Marin United Taxpayers Association. "He might be more reluctant to question the expenditures of the people who appointed him."
Under the proposal, the independence of the new finance director would be fortified by requiring a vote of four of the county's five supervisors to fire the director. In addition, an outside independent audit would be conducted annually to verify proper financial management of the new office and a new financial audit advisory committee - consisting of county supervisors, county staff and residents - would be established to review the annual audit.
But the grand jury sees the need for one additional safeguard. If the position were elected, the finance officer would in effect have a four-year contract, the jury writes in its report.
It concludes: "A similar long-term contract for an appointed finance officer would carry with it much the same sort of job guarantee that encourages independent action."
Sunday, October 5, 2008
This year, all five county community college districts are seeing an enrollment surge at a time when most are grappling with a severe budget crunch. Add to that controversies in the North Coast and South County districts, plus a recent grand jury report citing ethical issues that warranted investigation in every district but Palomar, and stakes in the Nov. 4 election could not be higher.
MiraCostaFor the first time in more than two decades, every incumbent in the Oceanside-based MiraCosta Community College District race faces a challenger.
“MiraCosta usually flies under the radar,” said Oceanside resident Ken Noonan, who serves on the state Board of Education and is a member of the MiraCosta presidential search committee. “But now the community has become somewhat cynical about the board, the administration, the faculty and staff. There's an issue of trust.
“There's going to be a lot more attention paid to the election this year,” Noonan said, “and I have a feeling that people who are just fed up with all the nonsense will probably cast a vote.”
MiraCosta's turmoil erupted more than two years ago with a scandal involving the illegal sale of campus palm trees – a now-infamous case dubbed Palmgate. It resulted in the conviction of the head of the Horticulture Department, who sold the trees with her fiance; forced three top administrators from their jobs; and resulted in the resignation of President Victoria Muñoz Richart, who had received a death threat during the upheaval.
The investigation and ensuing controversy have cost the district well over $2 million and generated a string of lawsuits against the school.
Recently, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges warned MiraCosta that its accreditation could be in jeopardy because it failed to meet the deadlines for determining how to measure student achievement, and that strife among board members was negatively affecting the campus.
SouthwesternMany associated with Southwestern College in Chula Vista also worry about that district's troubles.
A recent county grand jury ethics report cited a concern by Southwestern's accrediting organization that the governing board tended to interfere too much with day-to-day operations.
The report also raised the issue of high turnover of key managers. Southwestern College has had five permanent and interim presidents in five years. All four of its vice presidents have either resigned or been terminated since July 2007.
“We've had some major leadership changes that have certainly impacted our programs and services here,” said Norma Cazares, a counselor at Southwestern College. “When you don't have that leadership, then things begin to fall through the cracks. Many people believe the leadership on the (district) board contributes to these issues.”
In June, two top Southwestern college administrators resigned after being accused of sexual harassment in complaints to the state and college. In a subsequent lawsuit, a student services assistant alleged that she “involuntarily accepted” demands for sex from Arthur Lopez, director of financial aid, who she said would mention her pending evaluation during sexual encounters. She also alleged that Greg Sandoval, vice president for student affairs, asked her to add the words “in bed” to a fortune-cookie message he wanted her to read aloud.
An attorney for Lopez has denied the allegations. Sandoval has said he looks “forward to the outcome of the due process.”
Jose Preciado, president of the South Bay Forum political action committee, said this election, which has two open seats, is sure to receive more scrutiny than usual.
“Anywhere you go in the community, the Southwestern College drama has become a joke,” Preciado said.
He noted that the district has yet to show evidence of measurable student success over time.
Grossmont-CuyamacaThe Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, which has two open seats, hasn't escaped controversy, either.
The county grand jury has investigated changes to the employment contract of Grossmont-Cuyamaca Chancellor Omero Suarez without board approval in 2006. The chancellor ordered staff to delete a clause that limited his severance pay to no more than 12 months if he were released from his contract early. (State law now allows up to 18 months of severance.) Suarez, who has since announced plans to retire for unrelated reasons, later ordered the clause reinserted.
The grand jury report released in May said ethical issues meriting investigation had surfaced in the governance of every local community college district except for Palomar. Most or all of the grand jury's recommendations to address ethical issues were rejected by the five community college boards and the county Board of Education.
All this comes as colleges are facing tighter finances because of state funding levels.
The San Diego Community College District, where there are two seats open, has recently cut the number of classes offered, increased class sizes and frozen more than 100 vacant positions. The lone exception to the budget crunch is MiraCosta, which is funded largely through local property taxes.
Simultaneously, local community college districts are seeing an enrollment boom, at least partly in response to the economic downturn.
But Brian Adams, associate professor of state and local politics at San Diego State University, said enrollment spikes and budget reductions are unlikely to pique voter interest.
“That's happened before, and we haven't seen any real spike,” Adams said. “I think what will drive voter interest is the drama going on – the scandal. Things like conflict of interest and this person dating that person – that may get a little more interest in the races.”
Complaining that its investigation of Child Protective Services is being
stonewalled, the Sacramento County grand jury has warned all CPS employees
and its leaders that they must cooperate with the panel's probe.
In a strongly worded two-page letter issued to all CPS workers this week,
the grand jury said it has "been met with staff resistance and staff
improperly refusing to answer general program questions..."
"Any further refusals to answer general program questions or the citing of
confidentiality statutes when none apply will be considered a direct
attempt to interfere with the Grand Jury's investigations," said the
letter, which indicated it was being sent by grand jury foreman Donald
Grand jury proceedings are confidential. A copy of the letter obtained by
The Bee today indicates that Prange sent the warning on Wednesday to
Penelope Clarke, the county administrator who oversees CPS and its parent
agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter was then
forwarded to all CPS employees instructing them to cooperate with the
panel's probe, sources said.
CPS spokeswoman Laurie Slothower had no immediate comment today on the
letter, and requested that questions about it be submitted in writing.
The grand jury's investigation was sparked by stories in The Bee in recent
months concerning a string of child deaths and the agency's altering of
documents in one case before they were released publicly.
Prange indicated in the letter that CPS staff members have resisted or
refused to answer the panel's questions and have improperly cited
confidentiality statutes in doing so.
"So that the Grand Jury can continue these investigations without further
delay, please direct DHHS management and staff to fully cooperate with our
investigations," the letter said.
The letter indicated that one of the areas being examined includes
"policies regarding altering documents," and it warned CPS administrators
that they cannot retaliate against employees who cooperate with the
"There should be no intimidation/harassment of interviewees by management
and no questioning regarding testimony taken by the Grand Jury," the
letter said in one section that was in bold-face type.
See Story - Sacramento Bee