Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Napa County Grand Jury Article

We the people... order to insure the best possible government here in Napa County have volunteered for selection to serve on the Napa County Grand Jury for a one year term. Why don’t you join?

Since California became a state in the 1850s, Napa’s citizens have served on the Napa County Grand Jury (GJ). As you read this article, 19 of your neighbors are currently serving and writing reports on their investigations into the various government entities in the county and cities. These 19 started their quest last year by volunteering to serve for a one-year term (July 1-June 30). They met the basic qualifications which include: being a US citizen, citizen in Napa for at least a year, ordinary intelligence (the requirements used to say, “not decrepit”), and the ability to understand English. They submitted an application or were invited by the Court, met with the Judges for an interview, and ultimately were selected by their names being drawn from a drum. Nineteen of them were selected as jurors and 11 as alternates because some people do resign due to medical and other issues. The county pays for training provided by the California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA); the local CGJA chapter, made up of GJ alumni, also presents a mentoring program to help the jurors get started.

What exactly does the grand jury do? The California Penal Code specifies that the GJ make a confidential examination of the operations, accounts and records of officers, departments or functions of the county, cities or special districts—it has the responsibility and power to look at any aspect of local government. It is “we the people” in action. The GJ is not the typical criminal GJ you read about on the Federal level although it can be requested to assist the DA in reviewing a case. The GJ deals more with civil issues. Newly selected GJ members decides for itself—no one can tell them what to do—what areas they wish to investigate on our behalf. The GJ is independent of administrators, politicians and legislators. In recent years it has investigated many entities (see Report listing).

The GJ spends the first months of its one year term deciding what to investigate and how. The jurors then perform interviews with anyone they choose in local government (with the power of subpoena), reviewing records (with the power of subpoena). Finally they write and then make public a report with findings and recommendations. The topic of the investigation and all aspects such as the questions, names of the people interviewed, remain secret while in progress. Even the final report does not mention specific names of people interviewed in order to protect their confidentiality. Those are the rules of the GJ.

The final reports usually contain recommendations and ask the responsible entities to respond to these within 60 days for officials and 90 days for an agency. As an example, the 2007-2008 NCGJ recommended that a new fire station be built in Browns Valley and asked the municipal fire department and Mayor to respond. They did so collectively and agreed to go forward with plans for this station.

Since many reports are issued just before the GJ term expires, it falls to the next GJ to follow up to see if the recommendations have been implemented. Sometimes the next GJ decides to perform an additional investigation because the responses were found to be inadequate.

This system really allows citizens of “ordinary” intelligence to study the performance of their local government and to influence it in a powerful way. It is more satisfying than just complaining to one’s neighbors and friends about how bad things are. During the course of an investigation, jurors can learn and acknowledge exemplary performance as well as things not so pretty. It is a unique opportunity for a citizen.

The extent of the time required to accomplish this service varies but typically starts out taking 10-15 hours a week in the early stages and reaches a peak when the mustard blooms as reports are being written.

Those who serve describe it as one of the most meaningful and satisfying experiences in their lives and many ask to hold over for an additional year. Many former Grand Jurors work locally, as the Napa County Chapter of the CGJA, to support the Court in recruitment and orientation of new jurors with the goal of increasing diversity (age, geographic location, racial) and improve the effectiveness of the grand jury. The Superior Court has the responsibility of selecting and empanelling the GJ and the County for funding it.

You can apply today for service on the 2010-2011 Napa County Grand Jury : For more information contact the Court at 229-1110 or the Napa County Chapter at:

Recent Grand Jury Reports include:
• Napa Valley Transient Occupancy Tax
• County Jail and Juvenile Hall
• Child Welfare Services Department
• Office of the County Council
• Napa Valley Adult Probation Department
• Renovation of Farm Worker Housing Centers by the NV Housing Authority: A Case Study in the Failure of Government Stewardship**
• Napa Valley Unified School District
• Napa Valley Roads
• Retirement Benefits: County of Napa and City of Napa
• Napa County Emergency Communications
• Napa County Municipal Fire Departments
• Napa Sanitation District
• Napa Valley College
• St. Helena Unified School District
• Howell Mountain Elementary School District
• Pope Valley Union Elementary School District
** Received Excellence in Reporting Award from the CGJA 2008

By Daniel Mufson, President, Napa County Chapter, CGJA
Member of the 2007-2008 Napa County Grand Jury

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