Sunday, January 31, 2010

An introduction to the Lake County Grand Jury

Written by Fred Christensen
Sunday, 31 January 2010
Editor's note: Fred Christensen is foreperson of the 2009-10 Lake County Grand Jury. He compiled and wrote the following article – with thanks to present and past grand jurors for their help – to explain and describe the functions of the grand jury.

LAKE COUNTY – The institution of the grand jury is of ancient origin. Its use as an instrument of government predates its introduction into our country during colonial times. It has been continued and used throughout American history.

As constituted today, the Grand Jury is a part of the judicial branch of government – “an arm of the court.” It does not have the functions of either the legislative or executive branches, and it is not a police agency.

Additionally, it does not mandate policy change. It is an examining and investigative body that makes recommendations to improve systems, procedures and methods of operations in designated local government.

In Lake County, the grand jury generally performs only civil functions.


The grand jury is composed of 19 men and women of various backgrounds chosen from throughout Lake County.

The presiding Lake County Superior Court judge appoints a foreperson who presides at all full jury proceedings and is responsible for directing the business of the grand jury.

Most grand jury work is done by committees, whose focus areas usually include environment, juvenile justice, social services, health administration, criminal justice, public works, special districts and public schools.

The grand jury and its committee meet several times a month. They meet with county and city officials, visit county facilities, and conduct independent research on matters of interest or concern.

The committees report to the full grand jury and conclusions are reached after discussion and study of the issues.

The grand jury may seek advice or request the services of the county counsel, district attorney, presiding judge of the superior court or state attorney general.

The grand jury has a variety of functions and responsibilities.

The Lake County Grand Jury's watchdog responsibilities include its major function, which is to examine county and city government and special districts to ensure that their duties are lawfully carried out.

The grand jury reviews and evaluates procedures, methods and systems utilized by these entities to determine whether more efficient and economical programs may be employed.

In addition, the grand jury is authorized to:


Inspect and audit books, records and financial expenditures to ensure that public funds are properly accounted for and legally spent;

Inspect books and records of Lake County's special districts;

Examine the books and records of any nonprofit organization receiving county or city funds;

Inquire into the conditions of jail and detention facilities;

Inquire into any charges of willful misconduct in an office by public officials or employee.

Another of the grand jury's functions includes responding to citizens' complaints.

The grand jury receives letters from citizens alleging misconduct by officials, suspicions of misconduct or governmental inefficiencies. Anyone may ask the grand jury to conduct an investigation. All complaints are confidential.

Generally, the grand jury limits investigations to the operations of governmental agencies, charges of wrongdoing within public agencies or the performance of unlawful acts by public officials. The grand jury cannot investigate disputes between private parties.

The juror selection process

The court solicits applicants for the grand jury by advertising in local news publications. Applications may be obtained by mailing a letter with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Lake County Grand Jury coordinator, 255 N. Forbes St., Fourth Floor, Lakeport, CA 95453. Applications also are available at each Lake County Superior Court Clerk's Office, located at 255 N. Forbes St. in Lakeport or at 7000 A South Center Drive in Clearlake.

Once applications have been screened and approved, they are randomly selected to be grand jury members.

Prospective grand jurors must possess the following qualifications, according to Penal Code 893:


Be a citizen of the United States who is 18 years of age or older, who shall have been a resident of the state and the county for one year immediately before being selected.

Be in possession of his or her natural faculties, of ordinary intelligence, sound judgment and fair character.

Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language.

A person is not legally qualified to serve if any of the following apply if they:


Are serving as a trial juror in any court in the state.

Have been discharged as a grand juror in any court in the state within one year.

Have has been convicted of malfeasance in office or any felony or other high crime.

Are serving as an elected public officer.

Desirable qualification for a grand juror include the following:


Have the time to make the necessary commitment. It is not uncommon to serve 10 to 15 hours a week or more.

Be open-minded with concern for the positions and views of others.

Have the ability to work with others.

Have an interest in community affairs.

Possess investigative skills and an ability to write reports.

Have a general knowledge of the functions, authorities, and responsibilities of county and city government, and other civil entities.

Final report

At the end of its term, the grand jury issues a final report, including reports released during the year, documenting its investigations and recommendations. Copies of the final report are distributed to public officials, libraries, the news media, any interested parties and any entity that is the subject of one of the reports.

According to law, the elected county officers must respond within 60 days following the release of the final report.

The Lake County Board of Supervisors and other public agency governing boards must respond within 90 days.

The grand jury's final report will respond to all citizens submitting complaints. The citizen may have no further acknowledgment other than that their complaint was received.

Complaint forms may be requested from the Lake County Grand Jury, P.O. Box 1078, Kelseyville, CA 95451, telephone 707-279-8619; the complaint form, along with other information about the grand jury, also is available online at .

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