Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My turn: Grand Juror’s view

Grand Juries have been in existence in England since the 12th century and came to the colonies with the early settlers in the 1600s. As a check against improper conduct by elected officials, the Grand Jury system grew to be established throughout the United States. Gradually, to avoid oversight, state legislatures across our country voted to eliminate them; only California and Nevada now have full time Civil Grand Juries. The effort to eliminate this oversight function continues in some California counties with support by some in the state legislature.

A recent effort by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) was the introduction of Assembly Bill 622 which would significantly reduce the investigative powers of Grand Juries. The timing of his Assembly Bill introduction followed a Sacramento County Grand Jury investigation of a complaint regarding alleged improprieties at the Sacramento County Library. Mr. Dickinson, then a Sacramento County Supervisor, vigorously defended the integrity of the Sacramento Library Facilities Director and Library Security Chief. They were later convicted of embezzling $780,000 and defined by the prosecutor as “a classic case of public corruption.”

Assemblyman Dickinson was obviously wrong in his defense of these now convicted criminals, yet sought to make the Grand Jury system more restrictive in its investigative procedures. It is hard to determine Dickinson’s real intent, but to many it appears to be a move to reduce oversight of government officials.

With hard work by the California Grand Juror’s Association and many local county juror groups, some of the most cutting and restrictive features of AB 622 were diluted during its path to a vote. Unfortunately, AB 622 was in fact passed by the Legislature (primarily along partisan lines) and signed by Governor Brown on Oct. 9, 2011, impacting the Grand Jury’s access to witnesses by inserting lawyers into the process and adding challenges to jury members attempting to get to the truth of their factual findings.

The Grand Jury in El Dorado County has had similar success in uncovering wrongful or illegal behavior by public officials. Several years ago an investigation revealed that elected Board Members of a Fire District had paid themselves illegally and were subsequently required to return those funds to the district.

Only the Grand Jury has the power and authority to request information, files and records for which the average citizen would be required to file a law suit to obtain. The Grand Jury system is protected in the State of California Constitution. However, the California State Legislature with its powers to change the penal code may over time erode the Grand Jury’s state constitutional authority, the traditional “people’s protection clause” or right of oversight of their local government.

It is up to the citizens in every county in California to protect the integrity of our Grand Jury system, and not to allow legislators to take or erode the protection of Grand Juries written into the California Constitution.

How can you help? Be a vocal citizen when assaults are made on the Grand Jury system. Volunteer to serve as a Grand Juror in El Dorado County. You will become very educated as to how local government operates and provide a valuable service to the citizens of our fine County.

The Grand Jurors View is published throughout the year in the Mountain Democrat, written by the El Dorado County Grand Jurors Association. Please contact Chuck MacLean, President, at our e-mail: or at our mailing address: P.O. Box 383, Placerville, CA 95667. View our new Website: or look for El Dorado County Grand Jurors Association on Facebook.


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