Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grand jury service has its responsibilities

Shut up and listen.

Knowing when to do both are traits sought in a good Shasta County grand juror.

Although it can be a lot of work, those who have served on the Shasta County grand jury say the demanding job is worth it.

“The grand jury is a great opportunity to get the inside story on a number of things,” said 54-year-old Ray Frisbie of Whitmore.

Frisbie, a retired 32-year Anderson Union High School teacher, served on the 2006-07 and 2007-08 grand juries and was its vice-foreman during his second term,.

His reasons for volunteering were simple.

“I was just interested in local government,” he said. “I had a hankering to do it.”

While that certainly helps, those who volunteer to serve on the grand jury usually are motivated by a sense of community service — and perhaps ingrained with a few busybody tendencies.

Having a bit of free time on their hands is especially helpful.

Volunteers are asked to devote 10 to 20 hours a week for a year to serve on the grand jury, according to its website —

They must also be good listeners, and inquisitive questioners, but should know when to stop talking and protect the confidentiality of the jury’s work.

“You can’t say anything that’s going on,” said Frisbie, adding that’s one of the hardest things about being on the jury.

Seventy-two-year-old Duane Mason of Palo Cedro, who was the 2001-02 grand jury foreman, said he decided to volunteer after moving to Shasta County from Seattle after his retirement as a Federal Aviation Administration electronics engineer.

“I was looking for something to do,” he said. “I felt it was something that could make a difference and give me an opportunity to learn about local government and officials — and meet some new and interesting people. I believe all those expectations were filled.”

Despite the demands, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of those interested in trying to join next fiscal year’s watchdog group.

An open house that was held last month at Turtle Bay Museum attracted 70 people interested in serving on the next grand jury, which is due to be seated June 28.

Dale Trudeau, the jury’s current foreman who was a speaker at the open house, said such recruiting events normally average about 14 people. He and Frisbie credited the larger-than-normal turnout with an aggressive marketing and publicity effort.

A registration table — similar to those voter registration tables often seen outside supermarkets — was set up outside the Shasta County Courthouse during the unveiling of the restored Lady of Justice statue last month to kick off the recruitment drive.

In addition, members of the Shasta County Grand Past Jurors’ Association, which promotes grand jury service, have been making the rounds of community service groups and other organizations to beat the grand jury drum.

“Everyone has worked very hard to encourage people to volunteer,” said Shasta County Superior Court Executive Officer Melissa Fowler-Bradley. “After all, the grand jury is only as good as the citizens who apply.”

Friday is the deadline to submit applications to serve on the 2010-11 grand jury.

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