Saturday, November 29, 2008

Grand jury reports on Wasco prison, local cities

Tuesday, Nov 25 2008 10:38 AM

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

Orphans of the Storm- Grand Juries, the Legislature and the Superior Courts

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, California grand juries haves been characterized as:

  • ...”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

State Supreme Court Limits Access to Grand Jury Materials

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


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

Tehama County Supes want Grand Jury to determine pay raises

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.

Calaveras Supervisors close book on the grand jury report

By Claudette Langley
Posted: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:38 AM CDT

The report that once divided Calaveras County and brought angry residents to their feet at numerous Board of Supervisors meetings was put to rest Tuesday with barely a whisper of protest.

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.”
For the complete story, see Friday’s Calaveras Enterprise or our e-Edition.