Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't damage state's civil grand juries

10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, April 24, 2011


One would think that Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is intent on destroying the California civil grand jury system. It's hard to argue otherwise with his proposed legislation, AB 622.

Currently, civil grand juries are closed to the press and public. This is so witnessness can give forthright testimony and have no fear of intimidation. According to the California Supreme Court, "it can hardly be disputed that the encouragement of candid testimony and the protection of the witness and their reputations are best achieved when secrecy is maintained."

Dickinson wants to change this.

Initially Dickinson wanted to open all civil grand jury proceedings to the public and press, but to waylay opposition, he amended the bill to limit public sessions to sworn testimony and to allow a presiding judge to authorize closed sessions.

Another AB 622 section would allow a witness to have their attorney present when they testify.


Current law allows a witness to confer with his attorney at any time during the testimony, but only outside the courtroom, since all jury proceedings are confidential.

Lawyers present at interviews would compromise the grand jury's ability to work confidentially.

Quoting from a recent Sacramento Bee editorial slamming Dickinson's legislation: "While grand juries have made some mistakes over the years, there's scant evidence they're running amok.

Any abuses are far outnumbered by successes. And there are already safeguards. They work under the supervision of each county's presiding judge, and they can't impose their recommendations."

The editorial also said: "Far more convincing are district attorneys, some judges and grand juror groups, who say if the bill passes, the juries would become less effective.

They warn that whistleblowers would be scared off, and that witnesses who do appear would be less likely to testify fully and candidly."

Remember, without San Bernardino County's civil grand jury, Bill Postmus would still be a distinguished assessor and former supervisor instead of a convicted felon.

Don't let Assemblyman Dickinson convert our present civil grand jury system into just another worthless proceeding.

stop legislation

The San Bernardino Grand Jurors' Association, an organization of past and present grand jurors, encourages readers to contact their member of the Assembly and put an end to this bit of ridiculous legislation.

Burrel Woodring is president of the San Bernardino County Grand Jurors Association

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