Monday, March 5, 2012

Marin Voice: Apply now for position on grand jury

Guest op-ed column by James R. Ritchie - March 5, 2012 -

IF YOU have given up hope for our national and state governmental processes, perhaps it is time to reinvigorate yourself at a more local level. If you have switched off your television and modified your hand-held devices to accept only the "Colbert Report," maybe it's time to apply for a position on the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.

Some suggest that, "All politics is local."

Each spring, the Marin Superior Court accepts applications from qualified residents willing to serve on the civil grand jury.

Well, spring is almost here. Although it's not political, the grand jury is local and it may be just the vehicle for all of you with urges to offer constructive and

helpful solutions to the county's various departments and agencies.
Each of California's 58 counties empanels a civil grand jury to investigate county government, departments, and agencies. From time to time, a criminal grand jury may be empanelled to hear a presentation from the District Attorney and a specific request for a criminal indictment. This is an entirely separate process and should not be confused with the civil grand jury. Civil grand jurors serve for the course of the fiscal year and provide a thoughtful investigation, review and analysis of many of our governmental functions and, after digesting that information, may issue reports on that investigation.

Although this country has a rich tradition of grand juries,dating back to medieval England, the modern grand jury has evolved into an investigatory body created for the protection of society and the enforcement of laws. It is the only independent "watchdog" investigative body in Marin County. Grand jurors may interview anybody with information thought relevant to their charge to improve the functioning of governmental entities in our county. This may include elected officials, professionals, public and private organizations, and anyone with knowledge regarding the conduct of public business. Often reports from these investigations may serve as the basis for meaningful changes in the functioning of governmental entities.

In Marin County, the Superior Court presiding judge swears in a 19-member civil grand jury, randomly selected from a pool of 30 potential jurors, narrowed from approximately 60 to 70 applications reviewed by the judges and representatives of prior grand jurors.

The remaining unselected applicants become alternates, often replacing grand jurors who are unable to continue to serve out their term.

If you are so inclined, please ask yourself the following questions. Are you a good listener? Can you cooperate with 18 others in pursuit of a common goal? Can you ask thoughtful questions, review documents, and help write understandable reports? Are you interested in trying to increase the efficiency of local government and improve services to the public?

Can you commit 20 hours per week toward performing this valuable community service?

Current grand jurors may be a good source of information regarding the nature of grand jury service.

Please understand that grand jurors take an oath of permanent secrecy regarding their investigations to protect those whom they interview from retaliation, similar perhaps to, "Men in Black."

If you have answered "yes" to the questions above, we are now accepting applications for the 2012-13 Marin County Civil Grand Jury. Please contact Patti Baseheart, aide to the grand jury, at 473-6132 or online at

Judge James R. Ritchie has served on the Marin Superior Court since 2000. He is the presiding judge for 2012.

No comments: