Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grand jury blasts Tehachapi school board over principal demotion

By Carol Ferguson, Eyewitness News
The Tehachapi Unified School District board of trustees came under fire from the Kern County Grand Jury over how they handled the demotion of a popular middle school principal. The jury report released Wednesday finds several violations of the state's "open meeting" rules.

The jury report outlines their investigation and findings, and reaches a scathing conclusion.

"As a result of this inquiry it became obvious that the Superintendent of the Board intended to take certain action without notice to the public, possibly fearing the 'firestorm' that ensured. Based on sworn testimony, this action appears to have been taken in response to complaints against a middle school principal primarily from the Tehachapi Association of Teachers.

"The action unnecessarily created a divisive, toxic atmosphere among the school community, turning board members, teachers, parents and students against each other," reads the report.

In March, the board voted twice to removed Eric Trigueiro from his post as Jacobsen Middle School principal. The board voted four to three each time. Trigueiro is known as "Mr. T" to many students and parents, the board decided to reassign him to a teaching position next year.

The jury's report said they investigated the board action "in response to several citizen complaints."

"It is the rule that local governing bodies, elected by the people, exist to aid the conduct of other people's business, and thus deliberations should be conducted openly and with due notice with few exceptions," reads the jury report. The state rules on open meetings are lined out in what's called the Brown Act.

The jury report says the board action violated the Brown Act requirements for closed-door sessions in several ways. For both the meetings of March 3 and March 10, the Tehachapi board had an agenda item that did not specify the title of the person to be discussed.

On March 10, the board agenda listed an item to discuss "negotiations" under a certain government code. But, the jury report said the board did not discuss negotiations.

The jury said there was another problem with the agenda for the March 3 special board meeting. "The board did not review Evaluations of Public employee(s) as stated in the Agenda," reads the report. "The board discussed complaints against one public employee."

The jury said that led to another problem. "Action taken in closed session on March 3, 2009 and March 10, 2009 is in violation of the Brown Act because the action or discussion was of a disciplinary nature based on complaints, and no 24 hour notice was given to the employee," the report said.

The jury found several other problems with the agendas and the meetings. They said the board didn't give the public a chance to address the board about any item that was listed in the notice for the special meeting. And the jury said "members of the Board have disclosed to non-Board members information discussed in closed sessions, in violation of the Brown Act, and Privacy Act of 1974."

Parent-Teacher Organization president Chris Duff had looked over the grand jury report by Wednesday afternoon. "I'm happy that the grand jury did a thorough job in investigating complaints that the community made," she said.

Duff said she hopes the school district will follow the grand jury recommendations. The jury report has a list of nine recommendations, and by law, the district must respond to the jury in 60 days. The jury report said the findings were also sent to the District Attorney's office for review.

District Superintendent Dr. Richard Swanson told Eyewitness News he had not seen the grand jury report by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and he wanted time to review it thoroughly before making any comments.

Other parents said they have had concerns with board actions before the vote on Mr. Trigueiro. "They're not really big on doing things procedurally, they just like to do things on their own like cowboys," said Yancy Sischo. "And I've had my own complaints in other areas before that were just as needy."

Parent Chris Duff said the board has a responsibility to the community, and it was community outcry that got the grand jury involved. "I feel validated in suspecting that something was wrong in the way it was handled," she said. "So, with the grand jury report coming out, I know that I was right in feeling that way."

Sanger was mismanaged, grand jury reports

Council members, ex-city manager are criticized.

A blistering report issued by the Fresno County grand jury Wednesday says that Sanger's former city manager and some current council members have benefited from cozy relationships with developers and have grossly mismanaged the city's finances over the years.

The 10-page report, which details a series of incidents, says city officials acted inappropriately and, in some cases, illegally.

"These conflicts of interest erode the public trust and create the impression that council members are working in the best interests of themselves and developers rather than the city of Sanger and its citizens," the report says.

* Grand jury report on city of Sanger

The grand jury also made it clear that the city would not be facing the possibility of such drastic budget cuts in the next fiscal year that begins July 1 if it had managed its finances better.

District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said her office is reviewing the report and could not comment on it.

One of the report's most striking accusations is that former City Manager Jim Drinkhouse bought a house from a developer for tens of thousands of dollars below the market value. In an interview Wednesday, Drinkhouse said his wife bought the house from Phillip "Randy" Castiglione's company, Bethel Estate, in 2004 or 2005.

The grand jury said Drinkhouse gave Castiglione special treatment by allowing him to build homes before they were approved and by letting him "cut corners" on building permits. The report also said that Drinkhouse's wife worked for Castiglione, though Drinkhouse said she was hired only after they bought the house.

Drinkhouse denies giving Castiglione any preferential treatment. He said his wife was able to get a good deal on the house because she bought it before it was built. By the time other homes in the development went up for sale, real estate values had risen, he said.

The report also criticized the City Council for not fully vetting Drinkhouse before hiring him seven years ago. It said that after he was hired, Drinkhouse told the City Council in closed session that he had been convicted of forgery. Nevertheless, the council decided to let him keep his job.

In late February this year, Drinkhouse abruptly resigned without explanation. The City Council agreed to let Drinkhouse collect his salary and benefits for the remainder of his contract through January 2010 -- totaling $233,000.

The report also said that "it has been common practice" for council members and city staffers to meet with developers for lunch prior to City Council votes on new developments. The council members didn't mention the lunch meetings before voting on the projects, the grand jury report said.

An unidentified developer also gave gift baskets and leather jackets to Drinkhouse and some council members, the report said. It said that most council members did not report the gifts on state financial disclosure forms.

Interim City Manager John White declined to comment Wednesday. Most council members did not return calls or e-mails.

Mayor Jose Villarreal, who was elected to the council in November, wouldn't comment on any of the specific accusations in the report but said the city is closely reviewing it.

"There are serious concerns that must be addressed," he said. "We will have to respond to those findings and recommendations. The citizens of Sanger deserve no less."

The city is struggling financially because it has depleted its reserves and is anticipating reduced revenues for the next fiscal year, as are most cities in California. But the grand jury made it clear that the city would not be in such dire financial straits if it had been more fiscally prudent.

In the 2006-07 fiscal year, for example, the City Council approved a budget that resulted in a $2.1 million deficit. Drinkhouse blamed the shortfall on declining city revenues.

The report said the city also has made loans of or spent almost all of the $15 million it received from a legal settlement with chemical and oil companies in the early 1990s. The money was supposed to be used for water-related projects, but much of it has been lent for unrelated projects, the report said.

The grand jury also reported that at a September 2008 festival at Sanger Park, Drinkhouse directed the city to "borrow" the Sanger Chamber of Commerce's liquor license so the city could sell beer. An unidentified council member who helped organize the event was warned by Sanger police that it was illegal for the city to sell alcohol, the report said.

Drinkhouse acknowledged that the city should not have been selling beer.

"That was an innocent mistake," he said. "No one knew we weren't supposed to do that."

SLO County Grand jury advises fingerprinting for in-home caregivers

Disabled, elderly or blind recipients of help may be at risk of fraud or abuse, report says

Home care providers who care for clients to whom they are not related should be fingerprinted, the county civil grand jury advises.

Jurors said funding problems have placed some recipients of in-home care at risk by limiting oversight.

“Once a client is on the program, oversight of caregivers is limited,” grand jurors wrote in a report released two weeks ago. “The risks of fraud or abuse ... are real.”

The investigative report is advisory only. In it, jurors spent most of their time praising the program for bringing much-needed and effective help to 1,778 disabled, elderly, blind and otherwise vulnerable county residents.

Under In-Home Supportive Services, eligible people hire caregivers to help with cooking, cleaning, working through the medical bureaucracy to make appointments, and doing other chores they are unable to handle on their own. In this county, 60 percent of those being served are disabled children or adults younger than 65.

Slightly fewer than half of those hired are relatives or friends.

Caregivers spend an average of 94 hours a month providing care, for $10 an hour. The federal government pays half the cost, the state one-third and the county 17 percent.

With in-home services, the elderly and others are able to remain in their homes, which helps them physically and psychologically, and saves taxpayers money, the grand jury wrote.

Without In-Home Supportive Services, “many, if not most ... would be in nursing homes or similar institutional facilities at public expense,” the grand jury wrote.

While the program is well-run, and relatives and friends provide much of the care, financial cutbacks, including state cuts in February, have shrunk the oversight of caregivers traditionally provided by social workers.

“County oversight is minimal,” grand jurors wrote.

“Is the caregiver coming to work late, or leaving work early? Is he or she performing or being paid for tasks not performed? Suppose the caregiver is a substance-abusing adult child living with an elderly parent-client, how would the county ever find out care was unsatisfactory?” the report asks.

That situation is only going to get worse, according to Lee Collins, director of the county Department of Human Services.

“Imagine Lucy Ricardo on the assembly line, and you’ll have a good idea of where we’re headed,” Collins wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“The governor has targeted IHSS for additional cuts as part of his slash and burn on the budget,” Collins wrote.

“His proposal would reduce caregivers to minimum wage, and would eliminate services to all but the most severely impaired,” Collins wrote.

The county and the caregivers’ union, the United Domestic Workers of America, are still negotiating a new contract. Both sides “acknowledge that the parameters within which we can negotiate are largely dependent upon state action,” Collins wrote.

“It’s a great program, and we appreciate that the grand jury saw that,” Collins added.

The grand jury also alluded to caregivers who have been fired for stealing medicine and taking loans from clients, as well as to some clients who have cheated the system by faking disabilities. Those cases were rare, grand jurors said.

Nonetheless, to improve oversight, grand jurors recommended that caregivers who are not relatives be fingerprinted.

Grand jurors indicated they would like to see all caregivers fingerprinted, but noted that neither the state nor county government would pay for that.

Under the law, the Board of Supervisors and Department of Social Services must file a reply to the grand jury report in Superior Court by Aug. 18.

Sacramento county Grand jury probes California district’s purchase of land for school site

A Sacramento County grand jury that probed Natomas Unified School District’s (NUSD) 2007 purchase of 41 acres of farmland for six times its value has recommended the sale be investigated by the local, state, and federal authorities, writes the Sacramento Bee. The report charges that Superintendent Steve Farrar failed to exercise proper oversight over the $13.3 million purchase and that a lawyer representing the school district in the purchase, Martin Steiner, did not reveal he had a conflict of interest until three months after escrow closed. The grand jury report followed a Bee investigation that found the district paid for the property based on an inflated appraisal. The single appraisal of $24.6 million presented to the school board was based on property with houses that had sewer and water service and could be annexed to the city, said jury foreman Donald Prange Sr. However, none of those conditions existed. The appraisal purported to reflect fair market value of the property and failed to disclose it was based on a hypothetical situation. In fact, the unimproved farmland sold by West Lakeside LLC, a partnership headed by developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, had environmental issues that prohibited building on much of it.

A senior property appraiser from the California Office of Real Estate testified before the grand jury that the property was actually worth about $2 million. The property was originally appraised by Chris Ferguson, who was hired by Steiner, an attorney hired in turn by then Assistant Superintendent Franking Harding, who handled the transaction for the district. That arrangement meant the attorney was legally bound to keep his conversations with the appraiser confidential, making the district's actions protected instead of transparent. Ferguson's attorney said that the buyer and seller arrived at a price based on conditions that everyone knew. He said Ferguson appraised the land based on assumptions he was directed to use, was never questioned about his appraisal by the school district, and wasn't asked to attend the meeting when it was presented. Last year, district officials acknowledged they had spent too much for the land and hired a malpractice attorney to help bring the parties together to agree on a remedy.

The grand jury also questioned hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed to the Natomas School Foundation by a partner in West Lakeside LLC and Tsakopoulos' AKT Development firm during the property negotiations. The report said that Superintendent Farrar, who established the foundation and sat on its board, actively solicited the donations. The grand jury also expressed concern that Steiner waited until three months after the close of escrow to reveal that he had previously worked for West Lakeside LLC.
Source: Sacramento Bee, 5/27/09, By Diana Lambert

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Solano County Grand jury reports hazmat flaws
Posted: 05/26/2009 01:00:53 AM PDT

By Brian Hamlin

The Solano County grand jury has reported several concerns about apparent shortcomings at a temporary hazardous materials storage facility in a residential area of Vallejo.

As part of their annual reporting process, grand jurors took a closer look at how hazardous materials are handled and regulated in the county. The process included a visit to a temporary hazardous materials storage site on Virginia Street.

Friday's grand jury report notes that, while the site is in a residential area, there is no "appropriate informational signage" there to warn nearby residents.

Additionally, the report charges, there is no established procedure for dropping off hazardous materials, and some people simply abandon containers on the sidewalk outside the storage facility.

The grand jury report also pointed out that no one is always on-site to handle emergencies, and access is granted to only a limited number of keyholders.

Drums located inside the storage area, grand jurors advised, also lacked proper labeling.

Grand jurors recommended that the site be properly signed and that the city should contact neighboring residents through mailings and the news media and advise them that hazardous materials are being stored nearby.

To prevent random sidewalk drop-offs, the grand jury further recommended that specific days and hours be posted for receiving hazardous materials at the site.

Access logs and material safety data sheets also should be posted at a location visible to all workers and visitors, the grand jury report advised.

In addition, the grand jury recommends that the city post -- both inside and outside -- the telephone numbers of authorized personnel to contact in case of an emergency.

Jurors also advised that "all drums with hazardous materials should be accurately labeled and checked periodically, to ensure that the label is still attached and legible."

Countywide, the grand jury advised that the Solano County Interagency Hazardous Materials Team Standard Operating Guidelines be updated to include policies for temporary hazardous materials storage facilities.

The civil grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court and is empowered to inspect and report upon a variety of public agencies and governing bodies within the county.

For the entire text of the grand jury's report, visit and click on the grand jury site. For more information, call 207-7302.

Mendocino County's grand jury lauds Ukiah Police Department

Excellence, personified'
Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
Updated: 05/26/2009 12:26:00 AM PDT

County's grand jury lauds Ukiah Police Department

The Mendocino County Grand jury has issued a report on the Ukiah Police Department which finds the city's law enforcement officers "professional and up to the task."

In fact, the grand jury titled its report "Excellence Personified."

Under Police Chief Chris Dewey, the grand jury said, the department:

has significantly upgraded its evidence room to a state-of-the-art facility;

is providing a School Resource Officer (SRO) to maintain a law enforcement presence at Ukiah High School and implement drug and gang intervention programs;

is collaborating with the Sheriff's department to establish a grant-funded K-9 corps;

works with Project Sanctuary to improve response to domestic violence incidents;

reinstituted the annual report to the community.

"The Department is currently focused on identifying alternative resources to replace state funding that will soon end for booking and forensics," the report notes. "The new Chief is emphasizing local recruiting to fill four currently vacant positions for sworn officers."

According to the report, the grand jury visited the UPD facility, evidence and training rooms, interviewed personnel, and reviewed pertinent documents.

Among their findings, the grand jury notes that:

The school resource officer sees marijuana and alcohol abuse as the biggest problems among high school students at Ukiah High, and that student affiliation with rival gangs is a "significant concern" at UHS.

If a non-English speaker calls 911, they are immediately transferred to a communications center where a language specialist transfers them to the correct interpreter.

The UPD currently has no service dogs. The UPD and Sheriff's office have received a total of $100,000 from Homeland Security funds to purchase two dogs, special cars, equipment and training for the officers and the dogs. The officers and their dogs will attend two months of specialized training. Each dog will cost between $8,000 and $10,000. An officer has to make a commitment of three to five years to work in this position.

There is an active bicycle law enforcement and safety awareness program. UPD issued 295 warnings and two citations during the past year. Violator's names are taken and logged. The warnings were for bicycle safety and failure to wear helmets.

The UPD sponsors an Explorers program to introduce young adults, ages 18-20, to law enforcement professions.

State funding for forensics and bookings is scheduled to end this year. UPD is seeking alternative funding sources.

The UPD annual report that had been discontinued is being produced again and distributed to the community. Copies are available at the UPD.

There are four openings for sworn officers.

Among its recommendations, the grand jury would like to see more training for officers assigned to the high school, more tickets for people violating bicycle laws, a second drug sniffing dog, and that the search for funds for forensics and bookings programs be given higher priority.

In its discussion of the department the grand jury was quick to note that, "Jurors appreciated the cooperation of the Chief and found department staff professional and informative. The jurors were also impressed with the information provided and the enthusiasm shown about reinstitution of the K-9 unit.

"The policy of involving Project Sanctuary workers in domestic violence calls has proven to be of real value to victims. The grand jury commends the Chief for this effective collaboration with an important community agency.

"The grand jury was also very pleased that the UPD annual report is being produced again and would like to see this continued.

"Jurors further commend the Chief for focusing on local recruitment to fill openings."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ventura County Grand jury investigates, validates Oxnard's capital purchases

Better oversight and transparency is needed when disclosing spending habits, recommends committee

By Paul Sisolak 05/21/2009

When members of Ventura County’s Grand Jury followed up on a request to investigate how much oversight is placed upon Oxnard’s purchasing system, the big query, “Are they doing it right?” arose from allegations that local officials were less than forthright about how city funds are being spent for various public works projects.

The jury released its answer last week revealing that it found “no significant procurement problems” in how the city administers its funds for construction contracts.

Jury members concluded that the city should develop better policies on documenting its spending habits so Oxnard’s Contract Compliance Review Committee, and the public at large, isn’t left wondering if transactions dubious in nature are, in fact, perfectly legal.

Complaints that prompted the grand jury’s investigation involved the city’s spending of about $211,000 for construction of a restroom at Oxnard’s College Park.

Oxnard resident Martin Jones, long an outspoken critic of the city’s handling of finances, and a former candidate for Oxnard treasurer, has blasted the issue because it never came before the city council. And with no city council, he says, comes no opportunity for the public to weigh in.

“Oxnard is not like other cities in the county. It is unique,” Jones says. “There is no transparency if it doesn’t go before city council.”

The grand jury’s discovery in the little-seen city purchasing manual is that transactions of that sort only require city council approval if they exceed $250,000. Contracts between $100,000 and $250,000, the report notes, need only authorization from City Manager Ed Sotelo, who signed off on the deal.

Jones, other residents and even an ex-city councilmember have questioned, additionally, if the city’s procurement of millions in redevelopment dollars toward a major construction project off Highway 101 is legitimate.

In April of last year, some suspicions arose when the city council agreed to forward $12 million in “HERO” funding to Shea Properties, developer of retail center The Collection and its residential counterpart, RiverPark.

The money, they decided, would finance a parking structure on The Collection site, as well as various other infrastructure improvements — curbs, gutters and the like. Two weeks ago, the current city council revisited the issue and added a water main to the list of projects in the $12 million budget.

One concern that was raised centered on the city’s use of redevelopment funds from HERO — short for Historic Enhancement and Revitalization of Oxnard — on a parcel that was hardly developed to begin with, save for the scant building or neighboring strawberry field. Another question mark on the matter was placed by Oxnard resident Shirley Godwin.

She had wondered why Shea Properties, as part of the elusive deal, would be giving the city back $9 million after receiving $12 million in HERO money, and how to account for the remaining $3 million. According to Godwin, the city’s plan, to put its $9 million into the downtown to aid businesses there competing with Collection stores, was disingenuous.

“This was a way to move $9 million of HERO money to the downtown central city,” she said. “Right away, we said, ‘Hey, you can’t do that.’ ”

Tim Flynn agreed, calling the deal a “money swap.” It was one reason why Flynn, then a city councilman, cast the lone dissenting vote on the $12 million transaction. He also criticized the usage of funds, but moreover, how the city amended its airtight theater ordinance to do it.

“We’re undoing our ordinance to benefit them and in the process giving them more money back,” Flynn recalled. “My logic was, if you’re undoing the theater ordinance and giving the city $[9] million, but for us to give them $12 million, that’s a puzzling deal. The city was bamboozled by that.”

But while the grand jury never examined the HERO scenario, it might have found the redevelopment money issue to be another victim of bad transparency because another municipal spending procedure that was perfectly legal still managed to generate grave doubt.

According to Marc Charney, a redevelopment law attorney in Oxnard, one of the reasons why The Collection, for example, is eligible for redevelopment funds in spite of its construction on mostly vacant land is that it falls under the guidelines of old redevelopment law.

“Generally,” he said, “once a redevelopment project is formed, it gets all the benefits, even though the law may have been changed.”

Germination of The Collection project had been envisioned years ago as a “town center,” back when development laws were different, and was criticized heavily.

“Some people were concerned cities were using the redevelopment law to form redevelopment projects not justified by economic blight,” Charney said.

Godwin found this out later, through research of her own.

“Over the years, redevelopment law has changed and changed and changed,” she said.

The money exchange, it turns out, was also an acceptable move by city officials. It was arranged that Shea Properties would invest $9 million back into the downtown’s survival because the downtown theater stands to encumber negative impacts from a newer, bigger multiplex in The Collection’s Century 16.

“It will go towards the downtown and theater in some fashion,” said Curtis Cannon, the city’s community development director. “Basically, because we knew there would be a scheduled impact of the downtown theater, that was part of the discussion.”

The remaining $3 million, according to Cannon, funds the aforementioned infrastructure improvements to The Collection.

However valid, Jones of Oxnard still frowns upon the deal.

“The whole idea of revitalizing downtown might be a noble idea, but I don’t think financing a development on the north side of town is going to help,” he said.

According to Cannon, other projects in Oxnard funded by HERO include construction and improvements to sites that include the Wagon Wheel, Carriage Square, Pleasant Valley Shopping Center, College Park Shopping Center, Channel Islands Shopping Center and former sites of Home Depot, St. John’s Hospital and Oxnard High School.

More on HERO can be found online at For the Ventura County Grand Jury’s full report on Oxnard spending, visit

Contra Costa child welfare agency slapped in grand jury report

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 05/22/2009 03:00:54 PM PDT
Updated: 05/22/2009 06:52:11 PM PDT

The Contra Costa County civil grand jury set out in September to examine the county's child welfare agency, but county officials stalled for months and denied access to complete case files, making it impossible for the citizen watchdog body to judge how the agency does its job, according to a report.

County officials disputed the report, saying they gave the grand jury access to all the information allowed by a juvenile court judge under confidentiality laws.

The four-page report takes the county's Children and Family Services Bureau to task for what it calls a "policy to delay and deny" its request to examine a random selection of case files.

The report, issued Thursday, echoed others by grand juries across the state that have complained of poor access to child welfare files. Some have called for legislation to add grand juries to a list of more than 20 interests — including lawyers, parents and guardians, and prosecutors — with an explicit right to inspect those files. Recent state laws have increased access to child welfare files by the public and county supervisors, but only in cases of child fatalities.

Forewoman Leslie Lea said the grand jury sought to examine the agency in the wake of several deaths of children in child welfare systems in Contra Costa and elsewhere. In some cases, investigations have found egregious gaps in the system and failures to comply with state laws or the agencies' own policies, she said.

"We thought, somebody needs to keep an eye on these things. And we just ran into resistance all the way through," Lea said. "We certainly are not saying anything is wrong. We just wanted to examine the process."

State law also allows a Juvenile Court judge to grant access to anyone who files a petition to inspect a child welfare file. After a January hearing, Judge Lois Haight allowed grand jury members to view 25 random files, minus full names, addresses, medical records and other information. Grand jury members looked at nine files and gave up the task, said Cynthia Schwerin, deputy county counsel.

"For the most part everything they wanted was there. Them knowing the identities of individuals, as far as we knew, wasn't going to help them with what they were looking for," she said.

The report describes the agency as "censoring" the files and said it was impossible to know what was missing. Joe Valentine, who oversees Children and Family Services as director of the county's Employment and Human Services agency, denied that.

"We made every effort to cooperate with them," he said.

The county Board of Supervisors has 90 days to respond to the report.

Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or

Grand jury critical of Riverside County District Attorney's Office

By Keith Matheny • The Desert Sun • May 22, 2009

The Riverside County grand jury on Friday issued a harsh rebuke to county District Attorney Rod Pacheco, stating his authoritarian ways have led to “a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation within the D.A.’s office,” and his disdain for settling cases has contributed to a court backlog.

Asked for comment by The Desert Sun on Friday, Pacheco’s office replied with a copy of a response letter the office sent to the grand jury.

In the letter, Chief Assistant District Attorney Sue Steding blasted the grand jury’s report as “limited, skewed and naive,” and refuted any idea “that expedience and convenience should be paramount to justice for victims and our society.”

The grand jury report cites the testimony of sworn witnesses, including former and current prosecutors in Pacheco’s office, as well as court-provided data and the testimony of the county Public Defender’s office, area defense attorneys and others.

In addition to reviewing criminal cases, grand juries in California also have a governmental oversight capacity, which this is considered.

Among the grand jury report’s findings:

That although career deputy district attorneys have traditionally been given discretion to manage their assigned cases, “in the current D.A.’s office, discretion has been all but taken away.”

“Witnesses report that current D.A.’s office practices discourage case settlements,” in violation of written office policies.

Investigation by the grand jury revealed that the D.A.’s office’s stance on settlements “contributes to the congestion of Riverside County Courts.”

“D.A.’s office witnesses described a prevalent fear of being transferred or reassigned to less desirable positions and/or geographic locations as punitive measures for perceived lack of loyalty.

“Fear of retaliation was described as inhibiting initiative, particularly in negotiating case settlements.”

Read more about this story in tomorrow's Desert Sun.

Grand jury report slams Riverside County DA

The Associated Press
Posted: 05/23/2009 07:55:00 PM PDT

RIVERSIDE, Calif.—A grand jury has issued a report criticizing the Riverside County district attorney's office, saying it operates under a pervasive climate of fear and calling into question decisions to take certain cases to trial.

The three-page report about District Attorney Rod Pacheco's office came after the grand jury heard testimony from current and former prosecutors.

"(They), as well as members of other county agencies, reported a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation within the DA's office," the report states. "Fear of retaliation was described as inhibiting initiative."

The grand jury also found that deputy district attorneys were not permitted to manage their assigned cases and needed get a supervisor's approval for everything.

Pacheco also discouraged case settlements, preferring to send cases to trial, thus contributing to the congestion of Riverside County courts, the report found.

Pacheco's office published an eight-page rebuttal stating the findings were false or unfounded.

The conclusions were reached "without the benefit of significant discussion regarding their merits with District Attorney Rod Pacheco" the rebuttal stated.

The report, published Friday, also faulted a special executive division, run at a cost of nearly $500,000 last year, whose functions replicate duties previously performed by existing staff.

The grand jury published a string of recommendations including allowing trial deputies to participate in case decision making and reducing court congestion by following established procedures for case settlement.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mendocino Grand jury says, Nobody was listening' at senior center

By CONNIE KORBEL Staff Writer -
Updated: 05/21/2009 11:43:57 AM PDT

Last week, the Mendocino County Grand Jury released its report, "Nobody Was Listening," following a September through March investigation of the Redwood Coast Senior Center in Fort Bragg.

The opening paragraph reads, "Over a six-month period, jurors documented a striking absence of the active, viable leadership and board oversight that are critical to the success of direct service non-profit organizations. As the investigation was reaching its conclusion, the executive director unexpectedly submitted his resignation."

The grand jury made 16 recommendations that address personnel and financial policies, the board of directors, the website and facilities, based on the 13-page investigation report.

They wrote, "The center's capacity has been undermined by an ill-advised board executive committee decision to permit the executive director to attend an inland law school three days a week, while being compensated as a full-time employee with an extensive benefits package, including tuition subsidy.

"The executive director's compensation has been financially costly to the center. His absence created a serious void in leadership. The board executive committee, with the executive director, failed to involve the full board in key decisions thereby weakening the board members' ability to provide needed oversight."

According to Interim Executive Director Charles Bush, the current executive committee is comprised of President Don Sheffel, M.D., Vice President Barbara Durigan and Treasurer Brandt Stickel. The officers during the period of time preceding the investigation included Sheffel and Durigan.

Grand jury members attended the December 2008 meeting when the senior center board voted to conduct an evaluation of former executive director Joe Curren and to order an audit of the center's finances.

Curren resigned on March 13, four days after jurors were informed the center was in the process of soliciting bids for audit services. The last formal audit of the center was in 2002.

The investigation, initiated in response to numerous citizen complaints, raised "serious" concerns, including those voiced publicly at two Area Agency on Aging meetings held in Fort Bragg last fall. Written complaints used phrases such as unfair treatment, fearful, nervous, intimidated, retaliation, unethical practices, harassment and unprofessional conduct.

"If anyone voiced their opinion or questioned his authority, they were fired without notice," said one complaint. Another said, "Disagreeing with [the executive director] was cause for dismissal."

In response, Curren told jurors, "... a concerted effort has been made by a small group of people to damage [my] reputation."

Written complaints also expressed concerns about the governance of the center, the termination of long-term employees and dissatisfaction with Curren's paid absences to attend law school.

Jurors conducted 15 interviews and examined available documentation (several board minutes were missing) and the website (the most current information was dated 2002). They toured the site — including visits to comparable centers in Mendocino and Sonoma counties — ate lunch with seniors, attended board meetings and talked to the individuals responsible for providing program funding.

Jurors learned that Curren, who was employed for 12 years, was paid $71,000 annually (comparable position at Ukiah Senior Center pays $50,000), was paid thousands in bonuses, accrued 12 weeks vacation every year and for the past two years was compensated an additional $3,000 each semester for law school tuition (on which he did not pay taxes), was allowed to work about half-time and still receive his full salary. At one point, Curren "cashed in" $5,000 in vacation hours to purchase a car, the report says.

The grand jury found no before-the-fact documentation that supported Curren's statement the board had approved tuition payments.

In a March 2009 retroactive letter, the jury was told the executive committee (Durigan and Sheffel) had approved tuition support, and permission to telecommute to work two days a week beginning in 2006. Also in March, Curren provided belated August 2008 board minutes that he had executive committee approval since 2007.

However, President Sheffel and Treasurer Stickel told jurors, "they had no knowledge that tuition was being paid."

The tuition checks only required Curren's signature.

Questionable board


The self-selecting six-member board (they nominate and approve members) self-described their responsibilities for policy, financial oversight and supervision of the executive director. Some members have served more than a decade.

According to the bylaws provided jurors in October, there is no cap on the number of three-year terms members may serve and no record of when the bylaws were adopted. Previous bylaws stated a seven-year term limit.

There are meeting minutes that state the bylaws were amended in September 2008 to permit two members of the executive committee (president, vice president and treasurer) to transact business with full authority. No documentation of their actions was available and the committee did not discuss all of its decisions with the rest of the board.

"In several cases, minutes for one month were identical to those prepared for the previous meeting," states the report.

Only Curren was allowed "official" contact with board members.

Even though the employee handbook, dated 2003, placed a 200-hour cap on vacation accrual unless approved by Curren, he told jurors he knew nothing about a cap and had cashed in vacation time for money.

In regards to Curren's attendance at Empire College in Santa Rosa, board minutes note a discussion that approved his telecommuting to classes but not a specific work schedule.

Curren's benefits and other "important" financial and personnel decisions had been approved by the executive committee "without timely review" or approval of the full board.

Curren stated to jurors that he did not do staff evaluations because he could terminate employees at will and "doing evaluations can lead to lawsuits."

Programs, finances

During Curren's tenure, the meal programs steadily increased, but there was a "marked decline" in the adult day care program — the only one of its kind serving the coast population — to the point where the required minimum daily census for funding was at risk, the report states. Social, health and education programs were limited, the newsletter was defunct and the website not functional.

Day Care Center participation dropped from 2,257 census days in 2005/06 to 1,572 two years later. A daily census of 10 is required to receive Area Agency on Aging funding.

AAA provides partial funding for meal programs, community outreach and the day care center ($268,942 in 2007/08, $222,459 in 2008/09), Mendocino Transit Authority provided $147,800 this year and a grant from United Way supports a suicide prevention program.

The remaining 49 percent of the budget is raised through transportation fees, meal contributions, donations, fund-raisers and the thrift store.


According to the report, relationships were in a decline with participants and volunteers, accompanied by high turnover with staff. Eight of the remaining 16 employees had been employed less than two years; nine employees left in 2007 another 10 in 2008.

Connections with Fort Bragg Unified School District, the property owners, were nearly nonexistent as were relationships with community organizations.

Charles Bush

"I was invited to join the [senior center] board last October [2008], served for five months, then became director after Joe's [Curren] resignation, and [I] left the board at that time. I had been on the board for about two months when I was interviewed by the grand jury," wrote Bush in an email received on Tuesday afternoon.

"In January [2009], the board asked me to conduct an assessment of Joe and of the operation of the center. This is work that I have done professionally for many years, and I agreed. I interviewed all key staff, spent 20 hours with Joe, and discussed the center with a dozen clients.

"I was about 75 percent completed when Joe resigned. I shared my assessment with the board, and they asked me to take the director's position with the understanding that I would complete a strategic plan, develop a strong staff team, and correct any problems that I had uncovered. We agreed to review progress in six months, and decide how to proceed.

"The work is going very well. We will have an annual budget and operating plan completed by the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1."

Barbara Durigan

Barbara Durigan is the longest serving board member but she says she was never interviewed by the grand jury for this investigation.

"The grand jury never talked to me," said Durigan in a telephone interview. "It doesn't make sense."

Durigan confirmed the board did agree to pay Curren's tuition. She said the board had made tuition payments for other employees in the past.

She said they felt, "After nine to 10 years [employment], it would further his ability to serve [the senior center].

"We [she and Sheffel] met, [decided], and didn't write it down," Durigan said.

She also stated that 12 weeks of vacation "wasn't outlandish after 10 years [of employment]."

Durigan defended Curren, stating that when he started his position the senior center was in "such financial ruin it nearly closed," but now it has "reasonable" reserves.

"Joe pulled it out; that's what he did," she said.

According to Durigan, most of time there were only four active board members.

"We never turned anybody down to be on the board; no one was begging to be on," she said. "We did not always do the best things we could."

Who's who?

The grand jury investigation requires responses from the senior center board, Interim Director Bush and Mendocino County Area Agency on Aging Director Susan Era.

The AAA holds a limited oversight role; the agency transmits county and federal funds to the center for meal, community outreach and adult day care programs. It also inspects the financial and service records annually.

AAA is a five-member board that has recently changed members. There is also a 16-member advisory council that is the main working body. The council does not handle contract issues directly; that is the responsibility of Director Susan Era and county counsel.

Redwood Coast Seniors Inc. formed as a California 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in 1973, and has a $1 million budget. It is located at 490 Harold St., in a wing of the historic high school campus, which is now the middle school.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grand jury report flags city redevelopment effort


2:00 a.m. May 18, 2009

The city's redevelopment operation, including the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. and Centre City Development Corp., needs better oversight and more openness, a new grand jury report says.

The recent ethical, financial and legal problems at the SEDC and CCDC, the 18-page report said, resulted from a lack of transparency about those agencies' finances and operations. Both agencies are quasi-independent nonprofits. The CCDC guides city redevelopment efforts downtown and the SEDC east of downtown.

About a year ago, the grand jury released a similar report, and the mayor is proposing some changes to the city's reporting structure with the two agencies. –H.G.

Grand Jury suggests consolidating 20 school districts into 6 to save money

By Cheri Carlson (Contact)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Eye on Education

Grand Jury members’ recommendations:

- A Fillmore and Santa Paula district of Briggs, Mupu, Santa Clara, Santa Paula elementary and high school districts, and Fillmore Unified.

- A Port Hueneme, Oxnard, El Rio and Ocean View district of Hueneme, Rio, Ocean View, Oxnard elementary and the Oxnard Union High School District.

- A district of Pleasant Valley, Somis, Mesa Union and high school students living in those areas.

- A district of Ojai Unified and Ventura Unified.

- A district of Conejo Valley Unified and Oak Park Unified.

- A district of Moorpark Unified and Simi Valley Unified.
related linksSTORY TOOLS

An investigation into school district administrative costs by the Ventura County Grand Jury found the county needs to consolidate its 20 districts into six to save money for teaching positions and educational programs.

Local district officials, however, questioned those recommendations Monday, saying bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Larger districts likely would save cash, said county Superintendent Stan Mantooth, but are not necessarily best for children.

“It doesn’t guarantee an effective education,” he said. “And in a democratic society, those decisions should be left up to local communities.”

The Grand Jury looked into district costs after reading news reports of teacher layoffs and ballooning class sizes, said jury Foreman Ronald Zenone. It found that administering the county’s 20 districts costs about $128 million annually, based on surveys sent to local districts. Only district-level administrative costs were considered, not administration at schools.

On average, those costs total $933 per student each year, the report states.

“It’s hard to say if the costs are exorbitant or not,” Zenone said, but in several cases, combining districts would reduce the number of administrative positions and costs.

The report — “School District Administration: Is the Cost Too High?” — was released Monday and requires responses from the county’s school districts, the Ventura County Office of Education and the county Board of Education. Elected officials have 60 days to respond and appointed employees have 90 days.

School district officials said Monday that they were reviewing the report, including the jury’s calculations.

There may be an economy of scale with larger districts, said Karen Schilbrack, board president of Briggs School District in the Santa Paula area. But there are negatives with a forced consolidation, too, including that parents may opt out and start charter schools instead.

Plus, there would be challenges with setting up an effective board that governed all the former districts fairly, she said.

Oak Park Superintendent Tony Knight questioned how much money would really be saved and what could be lost, including how a larger district would affect student academic achievement.

Oak Park, a district of about 3,600 students, was formed in 1978 because the community wanted its own district, and the community has continued to support the district through approving parcel taxes to pay for programs, he said. It has high achievement and, according to the report, has below-average administrative costs per student.

Through consolidation, however, Knight said the district could lose its small schools, local control and access.

“Big is not better when it comes to schooling,” he said. “I think if you ask any parent, they will tell you that.”

Zenone said he expects some resistance to the idea. Unifying or consolidating likely would mean people would lose jobs, he said, and no one wants to become another Los Angeles Unified School District.

Still, the report says, consolidating into larger districts would save “significant” money at a time when funding is scarce, and he doesn’t think people realize how much money goes toward district administration.

Superintendent Jeanine Gore from Mupu, a district of 127 students in the Santa Paula area, questioned the efficiency that would be lost in a larger district. At Mupu, she said, decisions can be turned around quickly and overhead is small.

Gore, who also serves as a principal and works with students who need extra help, said people have to consider whether their bottom line is saving dollars or something else. “Our bottom line is what’s best for kids,” she said.

To see the report, go to

Ventura Grand Jury Report Cites Wasteful Education Spending

Ventura, CA-- A local grand jury is looking for ways to cut wasteful education spending. It's a report that calls for major district consolidation.

A newly released Ventura County Grand Jury Report calls for more money to end up in the classroom.

If you would like to read the complete report you can at

Story Created: May 18, 2009 at 5:35 PM PDT

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grass Valley Animal shelter subpar

The Grass Valley Animal Shelter on Freeman Lane provides “inadequate health and welfare practices” for animals housed there, the Nevada County civil grand jury concluded in a report released Wednesday.

A high rate of euthanasia, lack of a systematic spay-and-neuter system, lack of full accountability in their spay-and-neuter fee deposit program and incomplete record keeping practices were pointed out in the report called “Missed Opportunities.”

The report’s findings run counter to what Grass Valley Animal Control says on its Web site: “Our adoption rate is phenomenal, being over 90 percent.”

The Grass Valley Police Department runs the shelter.

“We’ve just received the grand jury review, and we appreciate somebody from the outside looking at our organization, and we’ll review their findings, but we have a great shelter and great employees,” Police Chief John Foster said.

The report said the Grass Valley shelter has a 24 percent euthanasia rate, with 85 cats and 13 dogs put to death out of 416 animals brought there in 2007 and 2008.

“This is in contrast to the Nevada County shelter euthanasia rate (3.1 percent) and the Truckee shelter rate (1.7 percent) for the same period,” the report said.

Grand jury members worked with department officials for about nine months gathering the information, police Capt. Rex Marks said.

The report’s findings about the euthanasia rate “would not be accurate based on my recollection” of the information provided to the grand jury, Marks added.

A copy of the report was delivered in advance to City Hall, but had not been forwarded to the department before it was made public, sources said.

The department will respond to the report in writing as required, department spokesman Marks said. A response is required by Sept. 14, but the jury’s findings are not legally binding and the jury has no enforcement powers.

‘Missing out’ on volunteer help

The report said the shelters shortcomings stood out when the grand jury compared it to Nevada County and Truckee animal operations.

Truckee and the county also use volunteers, while Grass Valley has missed out “on the potential benefit of volunteers” to help out, the grand jury concluded.

Hours and public access to the animals are limited to 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays, the report said, and animals “are not vaccinated and not generally quarantined upon entry to the shelter,” the report said.

Spay-and-neuter law coming

Grass Valley does not spay and neuter animals before adoption. The grand jury recommended the city start doing so to reduce the population of unwanted animals.

The city will have to spay and neuter animals before adoption by law when the county reaches 100,000 people, the report said. The county has 99,186 residents, the report said.

The grand jury also recommended the shelter look at using volunteers, provide more exercise and better areas for the animals and increase its hours of service. The grand jury also said the shelter should stop boarding animals in competition with the private sector.

Intake and disposition records of animals were also not complete and less then half the animals taken in could be tracked, the grand jury said. The records system should be shored up and a fee study done as well, the grand jury recommended.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail or call 477-4237. To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail or call 477-4237.


* Grand jury report

San Mateo Grand jury indicts accused dog killer

By Michelle Durand

A grand jury indicted a Burlingame man on felony animal cruelty charges for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s miniature pinscher, Godiva, and hiding the body on the street.

The District Attorney’s Office opted for an indictment over the more common preliminary hearing for Ryan Reeser to push the case into Superior Court more quickly, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Reeser, 27, appeared in court yesterday but over prosecutors’ objections delayed a plea three weeks while his family secures his current defense attorney for trial.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, on Nov. 20, Reeser’s then-girlfriend brought the dog to his home on El Camino Real where they often stayed. The woman left for a time and, upon returning, couldn’t find Godiva. Reeser reportedly said the dog ran away but the woman saw blood on a washing machine and socks. The woman called her father who confronted Reeser and later found Godiva dead in her bed on the street.

A necropsy showed the dog sustained multiple hits and died from multiple rib and skull fractures and hematomas. The animal’s eye was also reportedly dislodged.

The Peninsula Humane Society turned the case over to the District Attorney’s Office which decided to file the charges Dec. 11 after further investigation.

Reeser reportedly claimed he punched the 6-year-old dog once after the animal nipped him. At his first court appearance, Reeser submitted photos of the bites to his hand and a judge dropped his $200,000 bail down to $100,000.

Reeser previously pleaded not guilty in a lower court but the hearing to decide if he’d stand trial was postponed multiple times. Rather than wait, the District Attorney’s Office took the case to the confidential grand jury last week and on Friday it issued an indictment on the charges of felony animal cruelty and misdemeanor destruction of evidence.

If tried and convicted, Reeser faces up to three years in prison.

Reeser is free from custody.


By Leah Etling, Staff Writer

A criticism by the grand jury of the utilization of citizen committees in the Santa Barbara County Planning Department earned a tempered but adamant response from the Board of Supervisors.

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury criticized Santa Barbara County’s appointment of citizen committees to deal with development issues that have what it describes as “worthy goals, little follow-through.”

To come to its conclusions, the jury looked at four individual committees set up by the Board of Supervisors: the Housing Advisory Committee, Affordable Housing Policy Committee, Process Improvement Team and Process Improvement Oversight Committee.

The grand jury looked at the reasons the committees were established, what the goals of each committee were and analyzed how the conclusions and recommendations of each were communicated back to the Board of Supervisors.

The conclusion: if the work of the committees was completed and communicated, it was often not acted on by the board.

In some cases, no work was ever done. The report states the Housing Advisory Committee never submitted any sort of report.

The supervisors, in a letter approved for submission to the grand jury, countered with the following response: “Wholly disagree.” The letter goes on to lay out the activities and recommendations of the Housing Advisory Committee, and states that the committee worked specifically on plans to end chronic homelessness, a report adopted in October 2006.

In response to the grand jury finding that “The Board of Supervisors and chief executive officer failed to follow through on the progress of the committee,” the board partially disagrees and states that staffing changes and a reorganization led to the absence of a final summary report on the Housing Advisory Committee’s activities.

The report also goes into some detail about recommendations made by the Affordable Housing Policy Committee regarding in-lieu fees on residential development to pay for affordable housing.

Identifying resources for affordable housing is part of the Housing Element update, which must be redone every five years. The supervisors said in their letter that the in-lieu fee idea will be looked at this summer as the element update proceeds.

One more functional example pointed out by the grand jury is the county’s Process Improvement Oversight Committee, a group set up to streamline county planning processes, such as building permits and project approvals.

That committee was charged with examining how to better structure the county’s development policies and processes and improve customer service as a result. However, after more than four years of work, there seems to be little definitive change associated with the committee’s work, the grand jury found.

A summary of the report concludes: “In return for their response to the county’s calls for help, these committees were met with the passivity from the (Board of Supervisors) that could discourage future participation from all but the most ardent citizen volunteers.”

The grand jury recommended the oversight committees should not be subject to potential political implications when tackling problems.The board stated in its response that it agrees.

“The recommendation has been implemented,” the letter says, stating examples such as the oak tree protection ordinance, zoning reformatting project, and down-zoning proposals to prevent growth and sprawl.

The report is one of several recently released summaries from the 2008–2009 Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury, made up of volunteers who want to help improve local government.

Reach Leah Etling at

Grand jury urges sale of Marin General Hospital

Richard Halstead
Posted: 05/16/2009 10:05:30 PM PDT

A plan to resume public control of Marin General Hospital next year should be canceled because it places the financial health of the county's largest hospital at severe risk, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury concludes in a new report.

Sutter Health, which has leased the hospital from the Marin Healthcare District and managed it since 1996, has signed a legal agreement to return control of the hospital to the district beginning June 30, 2010.

But in its report, titled "Marin General Hospital: Hope is not a strategy," the grand jury says that would be a grave mistake. It says the risks of the hospital failing under district management "are unacceptably high." Instead, the grand jury urges that Marin General Hospital be sold to a financially strong health care system "such as Sutter Health."

The jurors want county supervisors to participate in the selection of the health care system and in negotiating the hospital's sale. They say the sale would have to be approved by district voters.

The report does not note that in 2007 the healthcare district's board contacted at least nine hospitable management groups and none was interested in leasing or buying the hospital.

The grand jury suggests, however, that Marin General could be made more attractive by stipulating that once a health care system acquires the hospital the healthcare district be dissolved - pending approval by a majority of the district electorate.

"By agreeing to dissolve if acceptable terms can be agreed upon, the district would remove a critical impediment to attracting other healthcare systems to Marin General," the report states.

Criticism of the jury's report came from several quarters.

Lee Domanico, the district's chief executive, said his board "has already substantially explored the majority of the recommendations contained in the report and found them impractical, improbable and generally not in the best interests of MGH or the community."

Larry Bedard, chairman of the district board, said, "The civil grand jury unfairly assumes that these agreements can now somehow be set aside, only 14 months prior to the June 2010 transfer date."

Charles Auerbach, one of the leaders of Alliance to Save Our Hospital, which in the past has defended Sutter against its most vocal critics, said the report comes too late.

"We're so far down the line now," Auerbach said. "It's counterproductive at this point to have the grand jury come out with a recommendation that tears up an agreement. The district and the Sutter people have simply decided to part and we're making the best of what we've got left. It's got an opportunity to make it."

But current district board member Sharon Jackson views the report more favorably.

"I believe the risks that the grand jury report discussed are legitimate," Jackson said. "I believe the district is not thoroughly assessing them."

A spokeswoman for Sutter Health said company officials would not comment on the report.

The list of risks cited in the report is long.

First and foremost, the grand jury questions whether the district will be able to raise sufficient operating capital given the nation's ongoing economic crisis. The grand jury writes that the district should have cash on hand equal to at least 100 days of expenses, about $100 million, when it takes control of the hospital. The money will be needed as a cushion against unexpected delays in payment of accounts receivables. But the jury says the district expects to have only $15 million at most.

The grand jury notes that having even that amount of capital is contingent on the district being able to borrow $50 million, which is no sure thing given the state of credit markets. The district will have to use the bulk of that financing to repay the county of Marin, which has loaned it $20 million, and the company that is designing a new information technology system for the hospital, which it will owe $15 million.

Defenders of the district hospital model point out that Marin General was profitable enough from 1995 to 2007 for Sutter Health to transfer $69 million from it to other uses within the Sutter system. But the grand jury questions whether Marin General will be able to maintain that level of profitability in the future without Sutter's market clout. The jury predicts that as a stand-alone hospital Marin General will be unable to negotiate the same favorable reimbursement rates from insurance companies.

Finally, the grand jury notes that unless Marin General hospital gets a reprieve it must, under state law, begin construction of a new, seismically safe wing by 2013. The jury estimates that the wing will cost $350 million to $400 million. It predicts a bond issue approved by two-thirds of the district electorate will be needed to pay for the wing.

The grand jury concludes, "Even under the most favorable conditions, the probability is that Marin General will face declining revenues, increased costs and persistent capital shortages, which will impede its ability to compete with nearby hospitals and outpatient facilities."

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orange County D.A. says there is evidence of deputies' 'code of silence'

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas says sheriff's deputies at the scene of a Taser incident involving a veteran lawman and a handcuffed man 'softened' their accounts and 'were not truthful.'

By My-Thuan Tran
May 13, 2009

After weeks of growing tension between Orange County's top law enforcement agencies, the district attorney Tuesday offered what he said was clear evidence that sheriff's deputies changed their stories and held to a "code of silence" in an assault case that ended with prosecutors dropping charges against a veteran deputy.

The case against Deputy Christopher Hibbs, accused of using excessive force by firing a Taser on a handcuffed suspect, was dropped last month after a hung-jury verdict, with jurors leaning 11-1 to acquit.

District attorney spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder said "inconsistencies" in the testimonies of Hibbs' fellow deputies prevented the case from succeeding and alluded to a "code of silence" between the lawmen.

Her comments sparked outrage from Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which demanded Schroeder's immediate resignation.

On Tuesday, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas made his case, saying several deputies at the scene "softened" their version of events between the time they testified before a grand jury in 2008 and when they took the stand in the assault trial.

"The deputy sheriffs in this case were not truthful," he said, referring to the events on Sept 13, 2007, when Hibbs fired a Taser at Ignacio Lares, a convicted felon with outstanding warrants. Lares was handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car at the time.

District attorney officials said that none of the deputies at the scene reported the use of the Taser in the squad car during their initial write-ups of the incident. It was not until deputies allegedly began making jokes at the station house -- "What's your name? Clack, clack" -- that the event was investigated by the Sheriff's Department, which took the case to the district attorney.

Rackauckas said that Schroeder's statements about the "code of silence" referred only to the assault case and was not a comment on the entire agency. The statement seemed to quell some of the anger Hutchens expressed earlier with the district attorney.

"I was upset because when the statement was made, it seemed to refer to a pervasive code of silence in law enforcement in general, and nothing could be further from the truth," she said Tuesday.

District attorney officials said Tuesday that after appearing before a grand jury investigating the incident, deputies began changing their stories. They pointed to Bryan Thomas, a deputy at the scene, who told grand jurors he felt that use of the Taser in the squad car was not justified. He later changed his position, telling Sheriff's Department officials during an internal interview that it was justified, prosecutors said. He testified in the criminal trial for the defense.

Deputy James Wicks told the grand jury that he never saw Lares resist arrest or struggle while handcuffed and that he saw no reason for Lares to be shot with the Taser in the back of the patrol vehicle, according to the district attorney. But during the jury trial, prosecutors said, Wicks testified he could not see inside the vehicle.

District attorney officials said that several deputies changed their stories about where they were situated around the squad car and whether they could see the suspect being shot by the Taser.

Despite the inconsistencies, Rackauckas said there was insufficient evidence to charge the deputies with perjury. But he said deputies who were found to be lying during testimony should be off the force.

"Would I rather see [deputies] off the force if they are going to lie when they testify? Absolutely," Rackauckas said. "Not only is it bad for the integrity of that particular case, it's just a bad thing all the way around. People learn of it and they question whether any police officers tell the truth."

Hutchens said she believed the district attorney's office "raised some serious questions" and that her department has launched an internal administrative investigation to review the transcripts.

"Any time there is any indication that any deputy may have been untruthful or less than cooperative, that is very serious," Hutchens said, "and we are going to look into it and take any appropriate action.",0,1234842.story

Monday, May 11, 2009

Planning Director rejects Santa Barbara Civil Grand Jury report findings

By Sam Womack/Staff Writer
The Jesusita Fire is at the top of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ agenda Tuesday in Santa Maria.

The board plans to receive an update on the blaze, which has burned in the hills above Santa Barbara since the afternoon of May 5.

The fire has eaten up thousands of acres and dozens of homes mostly in the 2nd District, but the fire has spread closer to the boundaries of the 1st and 3rd Districts in recent days.

The Santa Barbara County supervisors declared a local emergency Tuesday because of the fire’s ferocity and on Wednesday, the governor proclaimed a state of emergency in Santa Barbara.

In a separate matter, the board is slated to respond to a grand jury report which claimed that the county-appointed committees achieved very little or no change.

In response to the grand jury’s findings, the director of the Planning and Development Department rejected most as false and claimed that many of the jury’s recommendations were already in place.

Two out of the four committees were associated with the planning department, which has garnered its fair share of complaints over the years.

The Board of Supervisors must review and then respond to the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations, according to the California penal code.

Also, the board is slated to receive a financial status report as of March 31, the third quarter of the 2008-09.

The third quarter had low revenues and many departmental budgets were much tighter than has been seen in recent years, according to the staff report presented to supervisors.

In order to fill budget shortfalls and maintain and fund staff, who would have been laid-off, the Board of Supervisors approved several million dollar transfers from reserve accounts.

If additional transfers are not made before the end of the fiscal year, June 30, it’s possible that the general fund would end with a negative balance, according to the report.

More information by fund and by department is scheduled to be discussed at the board meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Betteravia Government Center at 511 East Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.

The public can address the board in person or by remote video in the hearing room on the fourth floor of the county Administration Building at 105 East Anapamu St.

For those who cannot make it to either location, there is a live stream of the Board of Supervisors’ meetings and copies of agendas and minutes of the meetings at

SF Supes to hold hearing on civil grand jury report

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi on Tuesday will call for a hearing on the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury's recent report slamming Mayor Gavin Newsom for not keeping adequate track of his departments and how they spend their money.

Mirkarimi is the chairman of the government audit and oversight committee and said he expects that committee to hold a hearing on the report within a month.

He said he wasn't surprised by the report's findings that the mayor's administration doesn't allow the average citizen to easily track how City Hall is performing or how money is being spent. And he added it's especially crucial to iron out these problems as the mayor and supervisors grapple with crafting a budget during an economic crisis.

"It validates what had been my ongoing concerns for quite some time," Mirkarimi said of the report. "When we ask about performance and efficiency, all the metrics are very loose."

Grand jury renews call to replace women's jail

Most of the county's 31 detention facilities are in good shape and managed well, but the Las Colinas jail for women is too old, crowded and has poor medical facilities, the county grand jury said in a report released last week.

As it has in recent years, the grand jury supported a county plan to replace the 1960s-era Las Colinas jail with a larger jail as soon as possible.

The Sheriff's Department has more than 5,000 inmates in eight main jails. Las Colinas is the county's only all-female jail.

The grand jury also reviewed several juvenile detention facilities and temporary holding cells at police and sheriff's stations countywide.

Las Colinas has a court-ordered maximum capacity of 500 inmates, but frequently houses more than 700. On the day the grand jury visited, it had 771 inmates, the 22-page report said.

The grand jury praised the sheriff's staff for keeping Las Colinas operating and effectively serving inmates' needs. It pointed out, for example, that during the past year, several housing units were painted inside and out, all housing-unit roofs were resealed, six dormitories were renovated, and rotted wood floors were replaced with concrete floors. –M.A.

Grand jury report backs replacing Las Colinas jail

By Mark Arner Union-Tribune Staff Writer

11:58 p.m. May 7, 2009

Most of the county's 31 detention facilities are in good shape and managed well, but the Las Colinas jail for women is too old, crowded and has poor medical facilities, the county grand jury said in a report released Thursday.

As it has in recent years, the grand jury supported a county plan to replace the 1960s-era Las Colinas jail with a new, larger jail as soon as possible.

The Sheriff's Department runs eight main jails, with a total of more than 5,000 inmates. Las Colinas is the county's only all-female jail.

The grand jury also reviewed several juvenile detention facilities and temporary holding cells at police and sheriff's stations countywide.

Las Colinas has a court-ordered maximum capacity of 500 inmates, but frequently houses more than 700. On the day the grand jury visited, it had 771 inmates, the 22-page report said.

The grand jury praised the sheriff's staff for keeping Las Colinas operating and effectively serving inmates' needs. It pointed out, for example, that during the past year, several housing units were painted inside and out, all housing-unit roofs were resealed, six dormitories were renovated, and rotted wood floors were removed and concrete floors installed.

In the meantime, county officials are hoping to review an environmental impact report in June for a new 1,216-bed jail proposed to replace Las Colinas at a cost of up to $300 million. Last year, the state announced tentative approval of $100 million for the project. If fully funded, the replacement jail would take about five years to complete.

The grand jury report also recommended installing video surveillance systems at all detention facilities and converting juvenile medical records from paper to electronic format.

Mark Arner: (619) 542-4556;

Supporters rally around Byron detention center

By Paula King
East County Times
Posted: 05/09/2009 03:04:55 PM PDT
Updated: 05/09/2009 05:36:08 PM PDT

Education, social exposure, personal growth and hope are just some of the intangible benefits that the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility provides its residents, according to advocates of the Byron ranch for boys.

When a Contra Costa County grand jury recently recommended closure of the nearly 50-year-old facility, supporters came out in force to explain how it has helped the lives of countless troubled youth throughout the county.

Last week, county supervisors rejected the grand jury's claim that the facility is not rehabilitating incarcerated teens.

"With all due respect to the grand jury, I feel they have missed the mark," said Supervisor Mary Piepho, who lives in neighboring Discovery Bay. "I'm not sure who testified before them, but I do recognize that the human element has been missed — the opportunity to touch people's lives and move forward to give courage and leadership to someone who may have made a mistake."

In a report titled "County Youth Rehabilitation Center is on Life Support: It's Time to Pull the Plug," the grand jury accuses the facility of violating numerous health codes and further states that closing the center and transferring its residents to Juvenile Hall in Martinez would save the county up to $5 million annually.

At last week's Board of Supervisors meeting, the county countered that the proposal would actually increase net costs by about $3.6 million each year.

Most of the board did commit to improving the aging facility as funds became available. The facility's closure is not in the financial or criminal justice interests of the county, Supervisor John Gioia said.

"The research is overwhelming that when young people receive the types of programs that are offered at the Orin Allen facility, their chances for a successful life are much higher than at Juvenile Hall," he said.

Grand jury forewoman Leslie Lea stood by the report after the meeting, and said the result could mean an improved facility and more programs there. The grand jury acts as a government watchdog group, and its opinions are not always popular, she added.

"We are not uncompassionate. We love kids, and want the best for kids," Lea said. "If they can get the ranch back to what it was in its glory days, then we are all for that."

The board received an outpouring of public comments praising the ranch's rehabilitation efforts, including a gardening program, reading project, catering department and its Delta Vista High School, where 30 to 50 GEDs and more than 20 diplomas are earned annually.

Volunteers, county residents and those involved in the juvenile justice system said the program is a model beyond the county and state.

Rossmoor seniors also spoke highly of the 25-year tutoring and mentoring program, where they spend one-on-one time with Orin Allen teens each Thursday. Rossmoor volunteer Paul Phillips called the grand jury's observations frivolous.

"We listen to them," Phillips said of Rossmoor residents' relationships with youths from the facility. "They often have not been listened to. We show them respect. We give them new ideas to pursue, to think about."

Members of the Discovery Bay Garden Club highlighted the landscaping and garden projects they have grown there. They characterized the boys as hardworking with a lot of potential.

"Our theme for the year has been 'the magic in the garden.' The boys have given us a lot of that magic," club President Rebecca Ferguson said.

"If it is broken, fix it, but don't destroy it."

Some supervisors were critical of the grand jury's findings. Supervisor Susan Bonilla said the grand jury should shift its focus to more meaningful investigations.

"This report really seems that it was written with an outcome that had been decided prior to any meaningful research," she said. "I believe it was written to cause a bottom-line savings of some kind."

Paula King covers public safety in East County. Reach her at 925-779-7189 or

Friday, May 8, 2009

SF Grand Jury slams mayor

San Francisco's annual budget of $6.5 billion dollars would make it No. 376 on the Fortune 500 list, but Mayor Gavin Newsom and his department heads have made it almost impossible for the Average Joe to see whether that money's being well spent.
Mayor's office to Civil Grand Jury: watch our 7.5 hour speech!

So says the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury in a scathing report released today which recommends that the mayor "take charge by managing the city by the numbers, rather than just publicizing those favorable to him."

The report says City Hall has been attempting to measure its own performance for 25 years, but has not been particularly successful. And it says Newsom's administration uses acronyms and buzzwords to complicate matters and doesn't pay much attention to its own departmental efficiency plans.

Nathan Ballard, Newsom's press secretary, said, "The grand jury doesn't know what it's talking about." He pointed out that the mayor has kept a record of every pledge and promise he's made since running for mayor and updates his so-called "accountability index" every year. Check out the latest here.

"Also, if the Grand Jury thinks Mayor Newsom isn't capable of handling 300-plus policy pledges, they need to pop some popcorn and throw the 7.5-hour State of the City in the DVD player," Ballard said.

P.S. The mayor surely didn't help himself by canceling the two meetings he had scheduled with the grand jury during its investigation.

Posted By: Heather Knight (Email) | May 07 2009 at 05:01 PM

Grand jury indicts homebuilder, wife

BY JOHN COX, Californian staff writer

The county grand jury has returned indictments against a former Bakersfield homebuilder and his wife, resulting in their arrest Wednesday in La Verne on charges of grand theft, conspiracy, forgery and diversion of funds.

The charges against Donald and Denise Juhasz follow an investigation by the county District Attorney's office into allegations by customers of Donald Juhasz's business, DMJ Customs Inc., that he took money meant to finance their homes but never built them.

Denise Juhasz was released early Thursday after posting $100,000 bail, while her husband remained in custody, according to the couple's defense attorney, Bill Slocumb. He said they had left their home in Bakersfield for La Verne because of publicity surrounding the allegations.

Slocumb said Donald Juhasz got caught up in a rapid rise and fall of the local residential real estate market. Denise Juhasz, he said, simply "wrote the checks."
"There were people that were hurt" in a change in the home market in 2006 and 2007, he said. "Don was hurt, some of his customers were hurt."

An arraignment date has been set for May 28, he said. Kern County Superior Court records show no such court date, and officials there declined to discuss the case, which they said remained closed to the public.

Under law, grand jury indictments are afforded special confidentiality. Details of such cases typically are not made public until more than a week after all attorneys involved are given copies of the grand jury transcript. Slocumb said he does not expect to see the grand jury's transcript until the arraignment.

Warrants for the Juhaszes's arrest were issued April 29, Bakersfield Police Sgt. Greg Terry said. That's the day the Grand Jury returned the indictment, Deputy District Attorney Richard Jackson said.
Terry said both Donald and Denise face the same charges: two counts of conspiracy, one count of forgery of a legal document, another count of forgery, one count of diversion of funds more than $1,000 and two counts of grand theft.
The couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in October 2007. According to bankruptcy court records, the couple owed creditors $6.4 million, and had $3.7 million in assets, most of that in real estate.

About a month before the filing, Bakersfield police searched the Juhaszes's home at 11228 Brightwater Way.

According to a statement written by police Detective F.H. Wooldridge and filed in court with the search warrant return, seven families had reported losses resulting from doing business with Donald Juhasz. Some of the families said he drew on their construction loans but did not pay subcontractors who worked on the projects.
Wooldridge's statement also outlined the couple's failed business investments and allegations that Donald Juhasz asked a friend to sign her name to a property's title.
One of the Juhaszes's alleged victims, Ammanda Meek, wrote in an e-mail Thursday that she was glad that the couple "will be held to answer for the crimes they are accused of."

"It has been a very long two years for my family and me," she wrote. "In the last two years we have lost our dream home, our savings, and our credit score. We are just glad that because of the hard work by the Bakersfield Police Department, and the Kern County District Attorney's office we are able to see light at the end of the tunnel. We will never be able to fully recover from the loss we have incurred."
Although Kern grand jury indictments are less common than charges brought by the county District Attorney's office, several cases originating with the grand jury have gone through the courts recently, including one earlier this year, Assistant District Attorney Mike Saleen said.

Saleen declined to say whether allegations against the Juhaszes were brought before the grand jury by his office or that of the state Attorney General.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

San Diego Grand Jury Criticizes City's Management of Development Agencies

SAN DIEGO - There is an absence of oversight and a lack of transparency in the operations and finances of San Diego's redevelopment agencies, according to a county grand jury report released Wednesday.

"Unfortunately the public perception of the city's redevelopment activities today is one of dysfunctional organizations, weak governance and opaque operations," the grand jury concluded.

"Many public officials and employees agree that there is a lack of effective oversight of the operations and finances of the city's redevelopment activities, exacerbated by insufficient transparency," the 18-page report continues. "In general, the city's redevelopment activities lack distinct lines of responsibility and authority."

The grand jury's report follows nearly a year of questions aimed at the city's two redevelopment agencies -- the Centre City Development Corp. and Southeastern Economic Development Corp.

In July, a investigation revealed financial improprieties by the former head of SEDC, including the granting of bonuses to top agency executives without city approval.

The former president of CCDC, downtown San Diego's redevelopment arm, resigned in July amid an alleged conflict of interest with a developer looking to build a skyscraper. Last week, Nancy Graham pleaded no contest to a charge of failing to disclose her economic interests in dealings with the developer and agreed to pay a $3,000 fine.

The grand jury report contained 11 recommendations urging the city to overhaul CCDC and SEDC and to institute "consistent measures to increase transparency in redevelopment activities."

Suggestions included establishing clear lines of authority and responsibility for the operation and financial management, amending the mayor's role as executive director, making activities and documents readily available to the public and amending how agency heads are selected.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City Council are already considering proposals to reorganize how the troubled redevelopment agencies are run.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Marin grand jury reaches out to Rwandan girl

Beth Ashley
Posted: 05/04/2009 12:00:01 AM PDT

Rwanda is a long way from San Rafael, but the Marin County civil grand jury has made a connection.

The 19 jurors are now the delighted sponsors of a 5-year-old Rwandan girl, Benita Tukumunde, who needs their help to go to school.

They were inspired by the words and pictures of fellow juror Don Comfort, a retired Tiburon policeman who has been to Rwanda twice, each time armed with a camera.

A photographer for many years, Comfort is working on a book about that African nation, hoping to show the world how its peace and culture have been restored in the years since the genocidal Tutsi-Hutu war of the 1990s.

"Rwanda is a beautiful, beautiful nation," he said. "Its people are beautiful, too."

Comfort was moved to visit Rwanda after members of the Africa Mission Alliance visited the Tiburon Baptist Church and described the plight of Rwandan widows and orphans.

"These children were so poverty-stricken they couldn't go to school, they didn't have clothes to go to school in any case, they didn't get a hot meal even once every day."

He decided to see the situation for himself. He made his first trip to Rwanda in June 2007, his second last September.

Comfort showed his pictures to fellow jurors in Room 245 of the Marin Civic Center and explained that $380 would provide one child a full year of school.

Jury foreman and retired broadcaster Jeff Skov of Lucas Valley quickly did the math and announced that if each juror donated a day's pay - $20 - they'd have $380 on the nose.

No sooner said than done. The vote was unanimous.

Because Benita is only 5, it will take 10 years of sponsorship for her to graduate from one of the two schools - Hilltop Academy in Kingali, Faith Preparatory in Butare - that are run by Africa Mission Alliance.

San Rafael homemaker Kay Corlett, who is on the jury, said "we'll be gone next year, but I suspect our wonderful secretary will urge future grand juries to take over."

Juror Glen Walker of San Rafael, retired administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission, said that "several of us have told Don that if the next grand jury doesn't contribute, just give us a call."

Comfort, meanwhile, has -put together a slide show from his 2,000 Rwanda photographs, showing the country he has fallen in love with.

Some show Rwandan widows taking sewing classes, run by the Alliance, so they can earn a living making clothes in the marketplace. The Alliance also furnishes widows with farm animals, usually a goat, whose offspring can be sold for a profit.

Most of the pictures, however, show students at the two Alliance schools - with non-students standing outside, yearning to get in.

Those were the pictures that touched the jurors, Corlett said. "They were so moving, it was easy to say yes."

Comfort has shown his slides in Marin and Sonoma, usually to churches, and said that he - accompanied by Africa Mission Alliance co-founders Amon Munyaneya and William Ngabo from Rwanda - has been able to raise money for 100 sponsorships.


Anyone interested in seeing Don Comfort's slides or contributing to sponsorship of a student in Rwanda can call him at 948-8357 or send e-mail to rwanda

Contact Beth Ashley via e-mail at