Saturday, April 28, 2012

(San Diego County) GRAND JURY: S.D. ROADS GO FROM BAD TO WORSE - Written by Aaron Burgin The condition of San Diego’s roads has deteriorated over the past four years, and Mayor Jerry Sanders needs to formally commit to improving it, the county grand jury said in a report released this week. The report cites data from the National Transportation Research Group, a think tank funded by road builders and others, saying half of the city’s streets are in poor condition — more than twice the national average. The report cites city audits that said that a key index of measuring street quality, the Overall Condition Index, has gone from a 63 percent rating in 2007 to 54 percent in 2011, more than 20 points below the industry standard of 75 percent. City studies have also shown that city roads need about $478 million in repairs. Sanders’ budget proposal of $34.1 million for fiscal 2012 to repair streets only maintains the current conditions and does not improve them, the report states. “Such a ‘status quo’ option of limited effort will only perpetuate today’s problems,” the report states. “San Diego city streets have been neglected for so many years that both the mayor and City Council must focus on improving this community asset.” Sanders’ office responded that the grand jury report fails to acknowledge that the city has pledged more than $100 million in road repairs since 2010, including $47 million spent in 2010 from bonds and a commitment to use $25 million in Transnet Tax Revenues next fiscal year. By comparison, the city spent about $4 million a year on road repairs in the 10 years before Sanders became mayor, Sanders’ office said. “In the past few years, the city has committed an unprecedented amount of money to fix streets that suffered from decades of neglect,” Sanders’ spokesman Alex Roth said. “Sadly, the grand jury report fails to mention this historic financial commitment.” The city has 90 days to issue an official response.

Friday, April 27, 2012

(San Diego County) Grand jury: City council needs to step up commitment to road maintenance - Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City Council need to make a formal commitment to improve the condition of San Diego's streets, according to San Diego County Grand Jury findings released Thursday. The grand jury noted that only 10 percent of major streets in San Diego were rated to be in good condition. A recent study based on a national benchmark called the Overall Condition Index, or OCI, gave San Diego's roadways a 54.6 percent rating in 2011, down more than 8 percent in four years. A rating of 75 percent is considered the industry standard. The jurors said providing enough funds to maintain the status quo condition of the roadways in the fiscal year beginning July 1 "will only perpetuate today's problems." The mayor's budget proposal calls for about $38 million to go toward street repairs. The city's Independent Budget Analyst has determined that spending $34.1 million would maintain the current street conditions. Alex Roth, a spokesman for Sanders, said the city has spent an unprecedented amount of money on road repairs in recent years. "Sadly, the grand jury report fails to mention this historic financial commitment," Roth said. "We do agree with the grand jury that repairing San Diego's streets is vitally important to our citizens' quality of life, which is why we will continue our aggressive work in this area." The grand jury recommended that Sanders develop a resolution stating that he and the City Council are committed to upgrading operations, maintenance and capital improvements for all of San Diego's streets and that city officials commit to reaching an OCI of 75 percent. The panel further recommended that the mayor and city council continue to streamline the capital improvement process; clarify the city's ordinance that deals with excavations; and assess all of the city's roadways every four years; and that the city place a five-year maintenance plan online and update it weekly. The city has 90 days to respond to the report.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


All qualified citizens interested in serving on the 2012-13 Mendocino County Grand Jury are invited to submit their applications to the Superior Court for consideration. The 19 members of the Grand Jury serve for one year and are empowered to investigate the operations of county, city and district governments and to provide civil oversight of local government department and agencies and respond to citizen complaints. A Grand Juror must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years or older, a resident of Mendocino County for at least one year, and sufficiently fluent in written and spoken English. Applications and related information are available and can be downloaded at The application may also be obtained in person at the Superior Court, 100 N. State St., rm. 303, in Ukiah or by calling the Grand Jury at 707-463-4320.

Solano County grand jury cites prison's overtime costs

BY CATHERINE BOWEN/ CBOWEN@THEREPORTER.COM Following inspections of one of Vacaville's prisons, the Solano County grand jury reported Wednesday that more could be done to combat the issues of inmate cell phone use, high overtime costs and the lack of recreation equipment. The report of California State Prison-Solano was based on two separate visits to the prison in September and November and was part of the grand jury's responsibility to inspect the condition and management of the county's prisons. During the grand jury's visit to the medium-security prison in September, it was reportedly operating at 144 percent of its capacity, with a total of 5,200 Level II and higher-risk Level III inmates. After inspections of the facility and interviews with the warden, assistant wardens, captains and department heads, the grand jury zeroed in on the three specific areas of concern. Despite offering a variety of yard-time activities and self-help programs for inmates to assist in rehabilitation, prison staff said "there is a lack of recreational equipment for inmates' use" -- a factor they fear could lead to fights and riots when coupled with frequent lockdowns. To help address the issue, the grand jury is recommending more effective distribution of community outreach resources and that the prison tries to coordinate with the community to get the needed equipment donated. Also of concern was the amount of overtime paid to prison staff. During interviews, the grand jury learned CSP-Solano spends an estimated $40,000 on overtime weekly and around $2,200,000 per year, which could translate into 28 full-time positions. Most of the overtime was spent transporting inmates to medical appointments outside the facility -- an increasing occurrence due to the aging inmate population and instances of inmates who "engaged in various behaviors prior to incarceration that made them susceptible to major illnesses," the report stated. Each inmate transport requires a minimum of two correctional officers, which pulls custody staff from their duties, resulting in staffing shortages. Because of being understaffed, tensions within the inmate population frequently force the prison to go into lockdown. As a result, the grand jury recommends CSP-Solano reduce the transportation requirement to a contract driver and one correctional officer, rather than two. Another issue addressed was the number of cell phones smuggled into the prison to inmates by staff and others who pass through the gates. According to California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation statistics, 672 cell phones were confiscated at CSP-Solano last year. "This can be a safety issue for prisoners, staff and community because it facilitates criminal activities," according to the report. The grand jury is now following prison staff suggestions and advising that the prison implement a "managed cell phone system," which restricts unauthorized cell phone use by blocking signals within CSP-Solano's walls. Still, the grand jury said staff appear to be managing the prison well, despite budget restrictions and the prison's operation at more than maximum capacity. For more information, or to view the full report, visit Jury/GrandJuryReports20112012.html and click on the "California State Prison-Solano" report.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Report critical of First 5 Riverside

Published: 24 April 2012 06:20 PM
First 5 Riverside sat on more than $60 million in unspent funding instead of putting it to use helping children, according to a grand jury report released this week. The report also alleges the agency had tampered with documents and had unqualified people conducting audits.
Grand juries of private citizens are convened each year to investigate public agencies and issue reports on their findings. The report issued this week scrutinized an agency created to help young children.
Known formally as the county Children and Families Commission, First 5 falls under the county Department of Public Social Services. First 5, funded by tobacco taxes that voters approved in 1998, serves children from before they’re born to age 5. Services include early childhood education and health initiatives.
As part of its investigation, the jury interviewed First 5 commissioners, employees and county staff and reviewed First 5 documents. Jurors found that unspent grant funds were not re-allocated. Testimony revealed “a total fund balance of over 60 million dollars,” the report read. “Concerns were expressed over the excessive amount kept in the reserve and not being used to fund children’s programs.” Management had been warned the state would take the money, some of which was meant for future programs, the report read.
In a phone interview Tuesday, First 5 Riverside Executive Director Harry Freedman said his agency had just received the report and would offer a detailed response later.
Freedman said that, while he hadn’t had a chance to look at the report in detail, “we believe there are some inaccuracies.” He said the $60 million figure is outdated. First 5 “spent down the fund balance to a significant degree,” he said. “At this point, we have virtually no dollars in fund balance that are not allocated for specific purposes.”
Citing sworn testimony, the report found “allegations of document tampering and mismanagement of both computer and hardcopy files, including grants and contracts.” No further details were given. Freedman said he wasn’t aware of any tampering allegations.
The report also scrutinized the makeup of the commission that oversees First 5. It includes a county supervisor, the county health officer and a representative from a health-related service agency.
“The commission’s structure could be perceived as causing conflicts of interest in the awarding of contracts in their areas of knowledge and interests,” the report read. “Though apparent care is taken to recuse those affected,” the perception of a conflict remains, the report added.
Other report findings included poor communication among First 5 officials, and “mini-audits” conducted by staff not trained as auditors. Among the jury’s recommendations:
A procedure to track who accesses documents.
Using leftover funds to expand programs.
An independent finance committee to review First 5’s budget.
The appointment of commissioners “not affiliated with agencies most likely to be awarded significant funding.”
Follow Jeff Horseman on Twitter: @JeffHorseman

(Riverside County) WILDOMAR: Grand jury criticizes bidding process

Press Enterprise - BY NELSY RODRIGUEZ STAFF WRITER - A report says Wildomar should have gone out for bids when it reduced a parks and rec contract A Riverside County grand jury faulted Wildomar’s decision to change a contract with a company run by a contracted employee without seeking outside bids for the work. In a three-page report released Monday, jurors allege the city provided no proof that it followed its own rule requiring open bidding for any contract worth $50,000 or more when it lowered an $87,600 contract with Diamond W Events for parks and recreation services to $60,900. The company’s president, Paula Willette, works on a contract with the city to oversee parks and recreation as its community services director. Willette could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Following the October 2009 approval of the original contract, a grand jury in July 2010 accused the city of violating its rules when it did not provide evidence that it accepted bids from other companies for that work. In a 52-page response that included reports showing the city hired Diamond W Events along with other companies for various jobs related to park maintenance and security, City Manager Frank Oviedo asserted that the company president’s established relationship with city officials alone was not basis enough for preventing the company from bidding on the work. Oviedo said several other companies were given short-term opportunities to prove they could handle the job and that Diamond W Events was one of several companies that formally applied for, and received portions, of the work. The city’s 2010 response said it considers many factors when awarding contracts. Oviedo wrote in the response, “General business relationships and friendships are not, in and of themselves, disqualifying relationships.” Now a second grand jury is questioning the city’s continued relationship with the company and its transparency in informing the public which employees are full time and which are contracted for specific services. In August 2011, when the city amended its contract with Diamond W Events, a grand jury requested public documents that would show the city allowed other companies to bid on the work. Bidding would have been required because the contract was greater than $50,000, jurors said. “The city did not present any such documents,” the report states. According to a city report presented during a city hearing in August, Diamond W Events had been providing “outstanding” service, but officials sought to reduce the contract amount to cut expenses. Oviedo questioned jurors’ interpretation of the contract amendment. “They lacked the rigor and analysis that I’m used to both managerially and legally,” Oviedo said. “Consequently, they drew inaccurate conclusions.” Responding to the finding that the city should be more up-front about which employees are contracted and which are full time, Oviedo said officials would examine the issue but the information always has been available. The city has until mid-July to formally respond.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

(Lassen County) Grand Jury finds issues with probation department

April 24, 2012 — Public concern regarding the anticipated arrival of state prison parolees to Lassen County due to the implementation of Assembly Bill (AB) 109 prompted the Lassen County Grand Jury inquires into the conditions of the Lassen County Juvenile Detention Facility (LCJDF) and Lassen County Probation Department (LCPD). The final report was published in advance of the Grand Jury’s Annual Report in July because it was determined there were issues of great concern that needed immediate attention. In 2011, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed AB 109 — historic legislation designed to help California close the revolving door of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons. AB 109 is just one part of California’s solution for reducing the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons. California law mandates the Grand Jury respond to citizen’s complaint letters regarding areas of possible concern. As a result of reviewing such letters, the Grand Jury determined that in the interest of public safety, a review of the LCPD was necessary. In addition to the expressed concern of the safety of unarmed probation officers, the Grand Jury received complaints regarding allegations of mismanagement within the probation department, which in turn provoked a tour of the facilities. According to the Grand Jury Report, “As the inquiry began information surfaced within the probation department that there are significant operational issues within the department and some staff exhibited unusual fear in talking to the Grand Jury.” The report said enough information was discovered in the initial interviews and tour to warrant an in-depth investigation. Numerous interviews were conducted which included current and former employees from all levels of the LCPD. One of the biggest areas of concern for the Grand Jury is the oversight of the chief probation officer (CPO) and how the probation department operates, as there is presently no structured supervision of the CPO or the department. According to the report, while the presiding Superior Court Judge appoints and removes the CPO, neither “the Lassen County personnel department, county counsel nor the presiding judge would take responsibility in direct oversight and/or supervision of the CPO.” The Grand Jury discovered that once appointed, the CPO is a county employee and according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the county is in fact responsible for monitoring performance and investigating allegations of misconduct. In addition, the Grand Jury discovered the CPO was officially on long-term medical leave but continued to work in the department office and from home on a county computer, and also directed staff via telephone and computer. The Grand Jury determined these actions might lead to liability issues for Lassen County and taxpayers. There also arose questions about safety equipment such as expired pepper spray, which is the probation department staff’s only form of personal protection. Staff voiced concerns about their protective vests being out of safety date compliance, non functional field radios, having to use personal cell phones in emergency situations and personal vehicles for work-related transportation while not being reimbursed as allowed within county policy. The Grand Jury investigations discovered the adult side of the probation department does not have a written set of policies and procedures. Staff said they learn their job duties by “winging it and from co-workers.” Staff in the adult side of the probation department reported not having regular staff meetings, but would like to have office meetings in which information can be shared and training given. Additionally, it was discovered some employees were using county cell phones for personal use. In particular, phone records show extensive use of a county cell phone by the CPO for several consecutive months while on medical leave. The Grand Jury made the following recommendations based on its findings: • All supervisors and the CPO receive advanced training in effective supervision and management strategies. • A review be done of all county cell phones in use and determine if an alternative plan would save taxpayer money. • Superior Court presiding judge, Lassen County Counsel and the Lassen County Personnel Department convene and determine who should have responsibility oversight of the probation department and the CPO, then implement a chain of command, publish it in the county policy and procedures manual and complete a thorough operational review. • Review the county policy on employees being allowed to perform work while medically excused and take appropriate action. • Establish and distribute a working policy/procedure manual, establish a written policy/procedure on citizen complaints and establish a use of force policy. • Conduct an in-depth review of the operational status of all safety equipment; maintain documented safety training records of trainings to be completed by all staff. • Review the probation department policy regarding arming probation officers, and investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement with other law enforcement agencies to provide training and certification. • Documented training be given to all probation staff on the county policy for the use of personal vehicles in the work place, and write a department policy for on-call employee vehicle use after normal duty hours. • Regular staff meetings scheduled to provide ongoing training and pertinent information. • Immediate inquiry into the areas of concern and actions of the CPO conducted through a cooperative effort between the presiding judge, county counsel and the county administrative officer. Responses to the Lassen County Grand Jury final report on the LCPD is required from the LCPD, LCAO, Lassen County Counsel, Lassen County Personnel Department and presiding Superior Court judge. Responses must be submitted within 60-90 days — elected officials must respond within 60 days and governing bodies, such as the Board of Supervisors, must respond within 90 days. The complete Grand Jury Report on the LCPD was published in the April 17 issue of the Lassen County Times on pages 9B and 10B. The report can also be found in the Susanville Library and the Jury Commissioner’s office at 220 S. Lassen St., Susanville.

(San Mateo County) Grand jury report criticizes San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services

By Aaron Kinney - San Mateo County Times - A new report by the San Mateo County Grand Jury has found that the county Office of Emergency Services has yet to follow through on improvements recommended after the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, and urged the county to upgrade its Emergency Operation Center. The report shows the office has not completed seven improvements it identified in a self-evaluation conducted weeks after a PG&E natural gas pipeline ruptured, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. Among the improvements is researching an alternative location for the operation center. The center, with its makeshift home in the Jury Assembly Room of the Hall of Justice in Redwood City, is "suboptimal," the grand jury noted, chiefly because of its poor cellphone reception. The grand jury recommended taking steps to establish a new facility within 180 days. Sheriff Greg Munks, whose office oversees the Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement Monday that his department is working to address the grand jury's recommendations, and he agrees that the Emergency Operation Center is in need of a new home. "The EOC's current location ... is functionally limited and not acceptable for serious and prolonged emergencies," Munks said. "Despite the current budgetary constraints, the sheriff is committed to finding a permanent solution to this issue." To read the full report, go to and follow the link to "Grand Jury."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Solano Grand Jury recommends Vacaville prison crack down on illegal cell phones

By Sarah Rohrs Posted: 04/21/2012 01:01:20 AM PDT
A state prison in Vacaville, the California Medical Facility, should have a plan to control unauthorized use of cell phones among inmates, the Solano Grand Jury recommended Friday.
The California Medical Facility houses sick, aging and infirm inmates, and also providing a psychiatric facility for incarcerated men.
In a report released Friday, jurors made two key recommendations as part of its four-page report. A chief concern deals with inmates' unauthorized use of cell phones, which can be used for illegal purposes and pose a threat to staff and inmate safety, according to the report.
"CMF staff stated there is a problem with cell phones being smuggled in by staff members and vendors for inmates' illegal use," the report noted.
According to state statistics, 236 cell phones were confiscated at CMF in 2011. The CMF staff recommends the state find a way to restrict unauthorized cell phone use by blocking signals within the facility.
Bill Sessa, spokesman for Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, agreed unauthorized cell phones in all state prisons is a problem which the state is tackling.
The state this week signed a contract with Global Tel*Link to provide phones to inmates to make calls from an authorized phone network.
Technology will be used to block cellular communication transmissions, such as emails, texts, phone calls and Internet access, according to a state announcement. "It is a solution to a security problem which is not just at CMF but systemwide. We found a solution for it," Sessa said.
Another grand jury concern at CMF was that personal electronic safety alarms (or panic alarms) worn by staff do not always work in all parts of the prison, according to the report. "There are numerous 'dead spots' that render the alarm system ineffective and compromise staff safety," the report noted, adding that better methods for reporting emergencies be used. Sessa said the division had not yet seen the Grand Jury report and so was at somewhat of a disadvantage in responding to specific assertions.
However, Sessa said, CMF officers are "well equipped to report an emergency," and added that personal alarms worn by staff are tested every 24 hours. "Every time an officer goes out on a shift they have assurance the alarm is fully functioning. They also have a whistle so they have ample means to report an emergency," Sessa said.

Friday, April 20, 2012

(San Luis Obispo County) CountyGrand Jury report: Realignment making noticeable impact on California Men's Colony - April 19, 2012 - A San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury report has found the state realignment of prisons has made a noticeable impact on conditions at the California Men's Colony. Realignment went into effect six months ago. It is the statewide law that assigns non-serious, non-violent, and non-sexual offenders to county jails where the offense occurred. According to the report, when the Grand Jury visited CMC on October 3, the inmate population had already declined by more than 275 inmates. By January, its population had decreased by about 600 inmates, or 16%. As a result, the report said there has been a decline in the number of incident reports, disciplinary reports, grievances and medical appointments. Santa Barbara County has seen a similar trend. Its main jail is experiencing a higher than projected number of inmates. According to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors' Department agenda, funds have not been expended as quickly as anticipated, but they are accelerating.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Mateo County Launches Anti-Bullying Campaign

The San Mateo County Office of Education's campaign was spurred by a 2011 civil grand jury report. - April 17, 2012 - SanMateoPatch

In response to national media coverage on bullying in schools, the San Mateo County Office of Education on Tuesday is kicking off a two-year anti-bullying initiative with a daylong series of free public forums.

The initiative, called "RESPECT 24/7," was spurred by a 2011 San Mateo County civil grand jury report that called on the office of education to spearhead an anti-bullying and civility campaign that would include all of the county's 23 school districts, office of education spokeswoman Nancy Magee said.

"Things that spurred the grand jury were events that were happening across the country, trends that they were seeing with online communication," Magee said.

RESPECT 24/7 aims to reduce incidents of bullying and engage students, families and communities in prioritizing respectful behavior in schools and in the community, Magee said.

"We really all have a responsibility to communicate respectfully online, in school, even in line at the grocery store," she said.

The campaign -- which is being organized by the office of education, Community Gatepath and the 17th District PTA -- is launching its countywide campaign with a morning forum featuring Linda Fogg Phillips, an author and expert on social media, Magee said.

Rep. Jackie Speier will address the forum via recorded video, and other speakers include county Supervisor Carole Groom, California Department of Education school health consultant Stephanie Papas, and education department office of civil rights attorney Kendra Fox-Davis.

The morning session begins at 9:30 a.m. and is being held at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, 330 Twin Dolphin Drive in Redwood Shores.

The public is also invited to attend an evening session aimed at parents, which will again feature social media expert Linda Fogg Phillips, Magee said.

The evening forum will be held at the Bayside Performing Arts Center, 2025 Kehoe Ave., in San Mateo.

Future activities of the RESPECT 24/7 initiative include a student art competition and establishing a youth advisory committee that will help steer anti-bullying policies, Magee said.

-- Bay City News

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

(Stanislaus County) Judge dismisses Patterson councilwoman's lawsuit

By Patty Guerra - Modesto Bee
A federal judge has dismissed Patterson City Councilwoman Annette Smith's lawsuit against Stanislaus County over treatment she received at the hands of the 2011 civil grand jury.

In the order issued Friday, Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill found that Smith's amended complaint "contains several fatal flaws."

In the report issued in June, grand jurors said Smith should lose her seat for failing to disclose a financial relationship with a developer and voting to give him $27,000 without justification, among other alleged offenses.

The report says Smith, Councilman Dominic Farinha and then-Mayor Becky Campo illegally ousted then-City Manager Cleve Morris. And grand jurors said Farinha misused his position on the council over a planned city inspection of his business and tried to use city staff in an effort to collect delinquent rent, and Campo kept her seat after moving out of town.

Smith said the grand jury unfairly targeted her and overstepped its bounds with the blessing of county officials. She sought damages, as well as "injunctive relief prohibiting any further abuses of authority."

County Counsel John Doering said Monday the decision "validates the county's position that the lawsuit was frivolous and lacked any merit."

Neither Smith nor her attorney, Michael Babitzke of Stockton, could be reached for comment Monday, but earlier Smith said her highly unusual tactic was aimed at an overhaul of the local grand jury system, saying grand jurors were "insulting, they were biased, they were predetermined."

Doering said staff will discuss the lawsuit with the Board of Supervisors in closed session tonight, and a decision could be made then whether to pursue repayment of attorney's fees from Smith.

"The county historically and commonly pursues legal costs when a lawsuit has been frivolous and continued to be pursued frivolously," he said. "That's the way we think this case is."

He could not immediately provide an estimate of how much the county has spent on the case.

"Hopefully, this will end the lawsuit and no more taxpayer money will be spent defending the lawsuit," Doering said.

O'Neill earlier had sided with the county with a preliminary ruling in February but allowed Smith to file an amended complaint with more information. She filed it April 2.

O'Neill agreed with the county's assertion that Smith failed to show that any county employee had violated her civil rights. Smith maintained in her amended complaint that "the grand jury allegation was the official policy of the County of Stanislaus by employees of the County of Stanislaus and under direction and control of persons in charge of the legal department and political departments of the County of Stanislaus."

O'Neill said the grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court, not the county, and as such is constitutionally protected from litigation. This time, he did not offer her the opportunity to amend her complaint.

"Ms. Smith's complaints are based on the actions of the grand jury," he wrote. "As described herein, however, the grand jury enjoys 11th Amendemnt immunity from suit."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Merced County civil grand jury needs applicants

Merced Sun-Star staff -
The selection process for the fiscal year 2012-13 Merced County civil grand jury has begun. Anyone interested in serving can contact the Judicial Assistant Office at (209) 725-4172 or go to to download the application. The deadline to apply is May 1.

Those who qualify will be interviewed by Judge Mark Bacciarini of Merced Superior Court and Linda Romero Soles, court executive officer. Bacciarini will decide on the 30 finalists. The 19 jurors and four alternates will be picked in open court by a random selection process.

Jurors must meet the same qualifications as a trial juror. The term of office is July 1 to June 30, 2013. Jurors must be available at least 20 hours per month. The primary function of the civil grand jury is to act as the public "watchdog" by investigating and reporting on the affairs of agencies such as county and city governments, special districts and school districts.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


The San Francisco Superior Court is accepting applications for Civil Grand Jury service for the 2012-2013 term, Judge Charlotte Walter Woolard announced today.

“As Chair of the Court’s Civil Grand Jury Committee, I would like to encourage
San Franciscans to participate in this important civic opportunity,” Judge Woolard said. “To assure that San Francisco’s rich diversity is reflected in the membership of our Civil Grand Jury, the Court has reached out to many different communities.”

California is among a handful of states that have grand juries at the county level.

In California, the state Constitution requires each county to have at least one grand jury empanelled at all times.

“Serving on the Civil Grand Jury affords the citizens of our great City the opportunity to address inefficiencies in government operations and hold city officials accountable,” said Beate Boultinghouse, President of the San Francisco Chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.

“It is important that members of all ethnic, racial and LGBT backgrounds volunteer to serve on the Civil Grand Jury so that they may contribute their voices and viewpoints for the betterment of our City.”

Last year, several Judges launched an effort to increase the diversity of Civil Grand Jury applicants with a focus on Asian-American (AA) communities. Members of the AA media attended the news conference and successfully helped the Court increase its AA applicants from 3 in 2010-11 to 12 in 2011-2012.

“I am delighted that everyone came through and committed to help the SF Superior Court in our efforts to recruit more AA to serve on the Civil Grand Jury,” Judge Sing said. “We anticipate that our broader outreach this year will yield similar results.

On behalf of the Judges on the San Francisco Bench, we are grateful to every individual and group who helps us achieve our goal of making sure the Civil Grand Jury is truly reflective of our City.”

This year, the Judges are expanding their diversity efforts to include African-American, LGBT, Latino and many other San Franciscans involved in civic and advocacy groups.

The application deadline is April 15, 2012. Eligibility requires applicants to be U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old. Applicants also must have lived in the City and County for at least one year, among other requirements.

Visit and click on the Civil Grand Jury link for more information about the Civil Grand Jury and to obtain an application. For more information, contact Court Supervisor Gary Giubbini at (415)551-3605 (weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) or by email at

The Civil Grand Jury’s upcoming term runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

After initial screening, eligible applicants are interviewed before Superior Court Judges select a pool of 30 jurors. The 19 members of the grand jury are then selected randomly, with the remaining 11 individuals serving as alternates.

Generally, applicants must be prepared to devote at least 15 hours per week to
Civil Grand Jury service. The entire panel typically meets at the Civic Center Courthouse from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, and separate committee meetings are scheduled as necessary.

Members receive a $15 per diem for each meeting attended during the term.

The Civil Grand Jury Committee, appointed by Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, is comprised of Judge Woolard; Judge Angela Bradstreet; Judge Linda H. Colfax; Judge Gail Dekreon; Judge Samuel K. Feng; Judge Teri L. Jackson; Judge Jeffrey S. Ross; Judge Sing; Judge Donald J. Sullivan; Judge Richard B. Ulmer Jr.; and Commissioner Rebecca Wightman.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tulare County accepting applications for 2012 grand jury panel

by Visalia Times-Delta staff
The Tulare County Superior Court announced that applications are now being accepted for the 2012 civil grand jury which convenes in July.

A civil grand jury studies and reviews operations of local governments and makes recommendations for change or improvement.

Those eligible to apply must be 18 years old, a resident of Tulare county for the year immediately prior to serving, of average intelligence and good character, and must possess a working knowledge of English.

Those ineligible are convicted felons, elected officials and candidates for public office.

The deadline to apply is April 27.

Information: 730-5000 Ext. 1359 or stop by the Visalia Courthouse, Room 303 on the third floor.

Friday, April 13, 2012

(Modoc County) State Attorney General to Investigate Modoc County

Modoc Independent News - The Voice of Modoc County - BULLETIN
by Ray A. March - Criminal investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office (AG) are coming to Modoc County next week to launch their probe into the county’s $20 million misappropriation of treasury funds.

The inquiry into the county’s financial practices, which could have statewide repercussions, may also lead to felony charges against county officials, according to a source familiar with AG procedures who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The investigators are expected to begin interviewing top level county officials, including members of the Board of Supervisors April 17, in the first phase of what is anticipated to be an initial two-week search for evidence and documents, according to the source who said there are a number of reasons for the AG’s investigation.

Attorney General Kamala Harris believes she has an ethical and moral obligation to investigate treasury misappropriations, and it does not matter how small the county. If county officials commit a felony Harris believes they should be held accountable.

(This is contrary to DA Christopher Brooke who has declined requests of past Modoc County Grand Juries to prosecute various county officials, saying he has no criminal basis to do so.)

The statute of limitations for prosecutions is four years. The AG considers the “point of discovery” as 2009, when former CAO Mark Charlton went public with his disclosure that county officials had been misappropriating treasury funds for years. There is one year left in the four-year statute of limitations.

County supervisors throughout California have been following Modoc County’s fiscal developments on the Modoc Independent News blog and are instructing their administrators to see if they too, can use restricted funds illegally and get away with it.

County administrators are reporting to the State Controllers Office their concerns that their boards of supervisors will try the same tactics as Modoc County, which they see as illegal.

“Attorney General Harris knows this and has told her staff that what the people in Modoc County are doing is wrong,” the source said. “She says it’s a felony, and that she has an obligation to investigate. Also, she knows that other large cities and counties are thinking of doing this.”

Modoc County is going to be used by the AG an example to send a message to other counties and municipalities that illegal use of treasury funds is not going to be tolerated.

Modoc County CAO Chester Robertson, when asked by the Modoc Independent News to confirm the AG investigation, dodged a direct answer saying he had placed a call to the AG's office and had not heard back from them.

“They have not contacted my office or the county offices,” Robertson said. “I heard they are coming, but I don’t have specifics because they have not contacted my office.”

Even so, Robertson did say he has advised members of the Board of Supervisors of the impending investigation and that they may be interviewed.

He did say he wanted to know “what the AG investigation meant to the county, what the intentions of the AG were and what the implications of these allegations meant to local officials.

“Woolverton hasn’t said specifically why they are coming,” Robertson said, referring questions to Gary Woolverton, former Modoc County district attorney, who Robertson said the AG notified rather than his office that it was starting its investigation.

Woolverton drafted the initial “performance bond claim” alleging various county officials were responsible for the misappropriation. Calls left with Woolverton’s office were not immediately returned.

The impending investigation was confirmed by Supervisor Dave Allan, who said the county was notified on April 11 of the AG’s intention to meet with county officials.

"The Attorney General's office is coming on Tuesday,” Allan said. “They say they're going to talk to people and write a report."

Allan said he, Robertson, Supervisor Loren “Shorty” Crabtree and Woolverton met April 11, the same day Woolverton informed them of the investigation to discuss their preparation for the AG meeting. He did not specifically say what the county’s plan was for working with the AG investigators.

Various county department heads are speculating among themselves as to why the AG investigators have chosen April 17 to begin their interviews and document search because that is the day Auditor Darcy Locken, Treasurer Cheryl Knoch and Robertson wrap up their “pay ourselves back“ special session workshop with the Board of Supervisors.

A surprised Locken told the Modoc Independent News that she had not been notified by Robertson that an AG investigation would start next week.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

(Stanislaus County) Patterson's ex-attorney sees contempt case tossed

By Rosalio Ahumada -
Patterson's former city attorney said Wednesday that he feels vindicated after a judge threw out a civil contempt of court charge on accusations of divulging secret grand jury proceedings.

George Logan said he argued before Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge William Mayhew on Tuesday, saying the county counsel had presented evidence — letters published in newspapers — not admissable in court.

Mayhew dismissed the case.

In a court document, Logan said newspaper articles amount to hearsay. "You can't convict someone of a crime based on a newspaper article," Logan said Wednesday.

The civil case stemmed from the Stanislaus County civil grand jury's June 29 report criticizing Logan, former Patterson Mayor Becky Campo, Councilman Dominic Farinha and Councilwoman Annette Smith.

Logan, an Atwater attorney, pre-empted the grand jury's report by writing a point-by-point summary of his testimony to some jurors, published April 28, 2011, in The Bee and the next day in the Patterson Irrigator. He had resigned as city attorney in May 2010, citing medical reasons.

County Counsel John Doering has said his office thinks Logan broke the law and should be prosecuted in criminal court, but the district attorney's office refused to prosecute. Doering on Wednesday did not return a phone call from The Bee. Previously, Logan said only grand jurors, not witnesses, are required to keep testimony secret.

The county counsel's office initially represented the grand jury but backed away because of a potential conflict of interest. County supervisors in December unanimously agreed to let grand jurors spend up to $10,000 hiring private lawyers to go after Logan in civil court.

Logan said the private attorneys removed themselves from the case about two weeks before the civil trial started Tuesday.

Deputy County Counsel Dean Wright represented the grand jurors in court.

According to the Patterson Irrigator, Wright told the judge, "We believe the articles are self-authenticating, and he has not denied he wrote the articles."

Logan said Wednesday that the county counsel should have asked newspaper reporters or editors to testify instead of submitting the articles as evidence. He said the county counsel did not, and the case was dismissed based on the technicality.

In response to the grand jury's report, Smith filed a lawsuit seeking an overhaul of the grand jury system, but a federal judge rejected her complaint in February. The lawsuit claimed that last year's grand jurors acted on behalf of the county when publishing "negative and false statements" about her.

In his order, District Judge Lawrence O'Neill wrote that "grand jury members are not employed by the county." Smith has said she plans to file an amended complaint in federal court.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

MTSJH Responds To (Calaveras County) Grand Jury Report

April 06, 2012 12:12 pm
B.J. Hansen, MML News Director
An interim Grand Jury Report details concerns related to the quality of care at Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital, and the transparency of its governing board.

One finding listed in the report is that, "The public has lost confidence in the healthcare provided in the county." The Grand Jury recommends that the District Board start giving an annual report to the Board of Supervisors regarding the state of healthcare in Calaveras County.

The Grand Jury Report also points out that a number of physicians left the hospital between 2009-10. When interviewed, the physicians stated that it was due to conflicts with management about the quality of patient care.

There were also concerns investigated regarding the transparency of the hospitals governing board. The Grand Jury found that the board is following Brown Act requirements by posting agendas at the facility, but recommends that agendas also be made available at other locations. It also recommends that term limits be instituted for members of the public that are voted onto the governing board. Many board members have served for several years.

The following statement in response to the Grand Jury report was released by MTSJH.

"Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital is dedicated to serving the community's healthcare needs and partnering with our physician providers, four of whom serve on the Hospital's Board of Trustees," stated Patti Monczewski, Interim Hospital President. "The Grand Jury report affirms that the community wants to ensure that Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital provides excellent quality healthcare. As a member of Dignity Health, we remain steadfast in our commitment to partner with the Mark Twain Health Care District to nurture the good health of the community."

The final Grand Jury report will be released at a later date.

Monday, April 9, 2012

(Stanislaus County) Hughson recovers from 2010 chaos - OUR VIEWS

Two years ago this spring, Hughson was in a political uproar.

A civil grand jury had found that three of the five City Council members had broken state laws, conspired against their staff and promoted their personal agendas. The three councilmen refused to resign and by April 2010, enough signatures had been collected to force a recall election.

The city manager had been terminated but wasn't officially yet out of office. Council meetings were riddled with name-calling and conflict, and the disagreements extended far beyond city hall. The council was so bogged down in arguments about who should be censured or fired that it wasn't dealing with basics — like making sure the budget was balanced.

So what is happening in Stanislaus County's smallest city these days?

We're pleased to report that the city government is stable and functioning well.

The budget is in check, after some painful staff layoffs — by percentage, the most in the region. And council members are leaving the minutiae of daily operations to the city manager while they focus on the kinds of policy and long-term issues that elected leaders are supposed to address. These include how to grow businesses and jobs in Hughson and how to provide water and other essential services to residents.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa represents the area that includes Hughson, and he watched with frustration during the chaos in 2010. "This council and management has done the necessary things to right the ship," Chiesa says.

Credit goes to all the current council members: Mayor Ramon Bawanan, Councilman Matt Beekman, and the three newcomers who joined the council in the August 2010 recall vote: Jill Silva, Jeramy Young and George Carr.

But the city also has a capable city manager in Bryan Whitemyer, who was hired in November 2010 after gaining a good variety of experience in Patterson, Modesto and Ceres.

So how does a small city function with only 14 full-time employees? Hughson has developed some resourceful solutions. Two department heads are part-timers — qualified and experienced people who retired from other cities.

Hughson saved money in its police services contract with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department by agreeing to a three-way share of the police chief. Waterford and the county are the other partners.

In some areas where Hughson doesn't need full-time employees, such as planning, it contracts with other cities or private firms.

Hughson is served by a mostly volunteer fire department, so the city avoids the other big-ticket public safety expense.

The workforce reduction in early 2011 was so great that the city no longer needs its Development Services building, so it is working with Stanislaus Alliance and Workforce Development to turn the place into a business incubator. People wanting to start small businesses will be invited to lease office space; the Alliance will screen applicants to assure they have viable business plans.

Not everything is ideal. Residents pay some of the highest sewer rates in the region because of the city's $21 million investment in a new wastewater treatment that officially opens this month. The complex was planned during the homebuilding boom, when Hughson expected to reach a population of 18,000 by 2030. Realistically, the city of 6,600 won't come anywhere near that population until many years later.

Eventually, however, the sewer capacity will be needed. For now, home building has resumed in Hughson at a livelier pace than in much of Stanislaus County.

Because of the city's huge obligation for wastewater facilities, the council decided it cannot participate in the planning for a joint surface water treatment plant with Ceres, Turlock and other communities south of the Tuolumne River. In the meantime, the city is again being resourceful. Non-potable well water will be used to irrigate a new park and school sports complex — saving money and reserving the best quality well water for drinking.

We applaud the leaders, employees and residents of Hughson on their community's remarkable turnaround.

We also think it provides a useful reminder: Local agencies need capable and committed leaders, people who will set aside personal agendas for the community good. Hughson and six other cities in Stanislaus County will be filling council seats in November.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

(Yolo County) New supervising judge for Yolo Grand Jury

Yolo Superior Court announced that effective July 1, Judge Dan Maguire is designated as the Yolo County Grand Jury Supervising Judge.

Assistant Presiding Judge Steven Basha stated, "Judge Maguire is an excellent choice for this important role because of his leadership skills and commitment to the community."

Maguire was appointed to the Yolo Superior Court bench in 2010 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Prior to his appointment, he worked as a deputy legal affairs secretary in the Governor's Office, and before that he maintained a private law practice in Yolo County. He earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Harvard University Law School after completing his undergraduate work at Stanford University. He was admitted to the State Bar of California in December, 1997.

The primary civil function of the grand jury, acting as an entirely independent body, is to review the operations of city and county government as well as other tax supported agencies and special districts. The grand jury also investigates complaints from private citizens, local government officials or government employees. Based on the reviews and investigations, the grand jury publishes its findings and may recommend constructive action to improve the quality and effectiveness of local government.

Another responsibility of the grand jury is to consider criminal indictments based on evidence presented.

"I am honored to act as the Supervising Judge for the Yolo County Grand Jury," stated Judge Maguire. "The grand jury is a venerable institution with roots tracing back hundreds of years, but it is still a vital part of our democratic process, and it provides valuable citizen oversight of our government."

For more information about the grand jury or an application to serve on the 2012-13 Yolo County Grand Jury, see the Yolo Superior Court's website at or call 406-6828. Applications are due May 11.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lawyer seeks dismissal of San Bernardino County corruption figure

Joe Nelson, Staff Writer - Redlands Daily Facts
The attorney for an Apple Valley businessman linked to a sweeping San Bernardino County corruption case filed a motion Friday in Superior Court seeking dismissal of the case.

John Dino DeFazio, 52, is charged with six felony counts of perjury for allegedly lying to the county's civil Grand Jury in 2009 about his involvement with a political action committee prosecutors allege was used to conceal a $100,000 bribe to former county Assessor Bill Postmus.

DeFazio was listed as chairman of the Inland Empire PAC established in February 2007. He told the Grand Jury in October 2009 that he controlled all activities associated with the PAC.

Prosecutors, however, allege Postmus had DeFazio and former Assistant Assessor Adam Aleman create the PAC and another, Conservatives for a Republican Majority, to conceal the alleged bribe from Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum.

Two checks, each totaling $50,000 and listing Colonies Partners LP as the payee, were deposited into the two PAC accounts in 2007. Burum is a co-managing partner of Colonies Partners.

Burum, a defendant in the corruption case, has denied any wrongdoing and maintains the contributions were an act of good faith - an attempt to rebuild bridges with county elected officials following a contentious legal battle over who was responsible for paying for flood control improvements at Colonies' 434-acre residential and commercial development in Upland.

Postmus testified before a criminal grand jury last April that he was unaware that Colonies wanted to contribute money to the PACs until January 2007 - more than a month after the settlement was finalized. He told an FBI agent and federal prosecutors in October the same thing during an interview.

In November 2006, the county entered into a settlement agreement with Burum and Colonies Partners, agreeing to pay $102 million. Prosecutors allege the settlement was tainted by bribery.

In his motion filed Friday, DeFazio's attorney, Richard Ewaniszyk, said DeFazio cannot be charged with the crimes because prosecutors are relying on uncorroborated witness information.

DeFazio, however, has been able to corroborate his assertion that he controlled all activities associated with the Inland Empire PAC. The PAC's bylaws showed DeFazio as chairman and High Desert developers Mike Gallagher and Jeff Bentow as board members. Bentow and Gallagher, however, denied having any knowledge they were listed as members of the PAC, according to the motion.

During DeFazio's preliminary hearing in February, Hesperia Mayor Russ Blewett testified that he was interviewed by DeFazio, Gallagher and Bentow on behalf of the I.E. PAC, and all three individuals contributed between $5,000 and $6,000 to his campaign, according to the motion.

Randy Coleman, a civil engineer and member of the county Planning Commission and the Apple Valley Town Counsel Equestrian Committee, also testified during DeFazio's preliminary hearing that he and his father donated to the Inland Empire PAC, and that DeFazio, Gallagher and Bentow all held themselves out as being on the PAC, Ewaniszyk said in his motion.

Ewaniszyk also said PAC treasurer Betty Presley testified that she wrote all of the checks from the PAC account, and would only write the checks if they were directed to DeFazio.

Prosecutor John Goritz declined to comment, saying his position on the matter will be laid out in his answer to Ewaniszyk's motion, which he said he will file in a timely manner.

Ewaniszyk and DeFazio declined to comment.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for May 4 before Judge J. David Mazurek.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kern County: Senator Seeks Grand Jury Investigation On Athal Mutual Water Company

Sen. Michael Rubio Seeking Transparency, Accountability
Christine Dinh - 23ABC East Bakersfield Reporter
The residents near Lamont whose water well broke last month have received refreshing news. Sen. Michael Rubio wants the grand jury to investigate that area's water district.

Athal Mutual Water Company serves more than 50 homes in the impoverished community of Hilltop near Lamont.

Last month, residents there lost water supply after a well operated by Athal broke down.

Families were without water for several days until local firefighters brought in emergency supplies of water.

Currently, the privately owned water district is buying temporary water supplies from neighboring East Niles Community Services District.

The state and USDA have fast-tracked the construction of a new well, which is expected to be complete in two weeks.

Athal will be in charge of operating the new well.

Athal, has not responded to any public record information requests by residents or Rubio's office, so he is asking the Kern County Grand Jury to conduct an in-depth investigation of Athal in hopes of finding out more than just what caused the water well failure.

"To try to find out what was the cause of it and where's the transparency and the accountability of this privately owned water district," said Rubio.

Rubio and residents want to know how Athal functions, how much it pays staff, what are its fee assessment procedures and other financial documentation. Customers continue to pay $75 per month for water service and $50 per incident assessment.

"Seventy-five dollars for water I can't drink, water I have to boil? That's nonsense. That's not right. What kind of job are these people doing out here? I've never seen maintenance go into that water well. I've never seen things done to it," said Athal customer Jimmy Carbajal.

Athal President Jerry Case interrupted the press conference to defend the company's actions, saying rates and fees go toward operations costs and the company's treasury, especially now that they'll have a new well.

"So we got to have money in our treasury to keep up. If that well goes down again, it's on us. And if we don't have money in our treasury, we're out of water again. That's what the assessment fee is for," said Case.

Case says he's not worried about a grand jury investigation.

"That's fine. I have nothing to hide. I make a good living. I work. I don't need anybody's money. I work," said Case.

Rubio said he expects a response by the grand jury in the next few months.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stanislaus County: City officials’ trials approach tipping points

by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Two upcoming trials stemming from a Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury report that lambasted several city officials last year have reached turning points.

A ruling is expected Tuesday, April 10, in civil contempt-of-court proceedings against former City Attorney George Logan in Stanislaus Superior Court Civil Division. The following week, arguments will commence April 17 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento regarding a motion to dismiss a federal case that Councilwoman Annette Smith has filed against Stanislaus County.

If Logan lost the contempt of court ruling, he could face a $1,000 fine and more than $10,000 in court costs. A judge already ruled March 12 that there would be no change of venue because of court prejudice against Logan, as his alleged contempt of court took place within the Stanislaus County court system. Logan previously shared information about his court testimony to the press after he changed the wording of a document that commanded him not to share details about grand jury proceedings, and then signed it. At the same time, Logan won a motion to have the court records in the case unsealed.

If Smith lost her motion April 17, her case would be over. Smith, whose attorney costs paid by the city have reached more than $27,000, filed a motion Monday, April 2, in opposition to the county’s motion to dismiss.

Costs to defend council members Smith and Dominic Farinha against civil grand jury claims have exceeded $67,000.

Smith’s motion countered the county’s claims in its most recent dismissal motion.

“While grand jury members are often exempt from liability, where they act as they have here, by intentionally circulating a defamatory report, liability may be found,” wrote Smith’s attorney, Michael Babitzke, in court papers. “In particular, the actions of the grand jury in the aggregate delimit and intrude on (Smith’s) first amendment rights to perform her duties as city council person for the City of Patterson in the manner she believes is proper.”

The county filed the dismissal motion March 16, claiming that Smith’s responses were not timely in court and that grand juries are arms of the court and not part of county government.

Smith’s original complaint, filed in October in federal court, was dismissed Jan. 26 because it was too vague, according to U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill.

Her amended complaint, filed in February, labeled grand jury members as county employees.

“Grand jury members are as a matter of law considered to be employees of the County of Stanislaus and were so employed at all relevant times,” stated Smith’s court documents. “Grand jury members are compensated on a daily basis by the County of Stanislaus, receive parking permits, office keys, access to a copy machine, access to email and access to a grand jury library to compensate them for services provided.”

The grand jury’s report released in late June stated that Smith participated in a vote regarding developer John Ramos’ legal fees while she had a financial relationship with him and also stated that Ramos had written off expenses for Smith in the past. It also criticized Smith for allegedly confronting a resident in a supermarket parking lot and using abusive language. The report stated further that she pressured city staff to fire former City Manager Cleve Morris and former Community Development Director Rod Simpson.

The report called for Smith’s ouster, by either citizen recall or her resignation. The grand jury also recommended that former Mayor Becky Campo pay back money she received as mayor because she allegedly lived outside city limits.

It further stated that the city should file a complaint with the California State Bar to chastise Logan for alleged improprieties, such as failing to be in the room when the council voted to reimburse Ramos for $27,000 in legal fees. The grand jury advised that Ramos return that money to the city and admonished Councilman Dominic Farinha for open-meeting violations.

• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31, or

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

(San Francisco) Judges seeking more diverse civil grand jury

By: Ari Burack | 04/03/12 9:49 PM
SF Examiner Staff Writer
Minorities are not well-represented on San Francisco’s civil grand jury, to the detriment of their communities, a committee of Superior Court judges said Tuesday.

The overwhelming majority of applicants to the volunteer civilian watchdog group are white, with Asian, black, Hispanic and American Indian candidates numbering only a handful, according to the court.

“If you don’t have the members of the public there to say, ‘Well, let’s investigate such-and-such,’ then you’re missing entire segments of The City,” said Judge Charlotte Woolard, chairwoman of the court’s civil grand jury committee. “So we are reaching — or attempting to reach — the goal of having every community represented.”

The 19-member civil grand jury — required of each county under state law — convenes for a year, conducting investigations of city and county government and its agencies, and issues policy recommendations in reports.

Some of the reports have had significant impacts, such as a recent one warning of a city employee “pension tsunami,” which helped spur legislation to cope with the problem.

Last year, the grand jury issued reports on Parkmerced, city hiring practices, the Ethics Commission, the Central Subway plan, the Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment project and The City’s whistle-blower program.

Judges noted that the time demands of serving on a grand jury tend to discourage people who need to work full time.

“It also has to be meaningful,” added Judge Lillian Sing. “I think in the past … the subjects have not been that meaningful to the minority community.”

This year, for the first time, the grand jury application will include an optional question about sexual orientation in an effort to attract more gay and lesbian jurors.

“So many people, especially in San Francisco, love to complain about everything that’s going on,” said Beate Boultinghouse, president of the local chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association. “But what do they do? How can they do anything? Well, if you serve on the civil grand jury, you can have a voice. You can see how the government works, and you can see where something is going wrong.”

While diversity is important, Judge Samuel Feng said interest in civic issues is vital.

“I think it’s a cop-out, these days, if you’re concerned about this city, the issues that are so important to this community, and you just sit there, you don’t do anything,” Feng said.

Those interested should apply with the Superior Court by April 15.

Glenn County seeks members for Grand Jury (

WILLOWS — The County of Glenn is looking for people to serve on the Grand Jury for 2012-2013. The Grand Jury is required by the California Constitution to investigate and report on criminal and civil matters in the county.

The county is sending out 750 applications to randomly selected addresses on voter registration and Department of Motor vehicle lists.

Once the jury is selected, the group meets twice a month.

People who are interested but did not receive an application, can contact Priscilla Butler, court administrative secretary, 934-6382 or

The deadline is April 9.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

San Mateo County: How Did San Carlos Respond to the Grand Jury?

The letter, signed by the Mayor, examines the Grand Jury's findings. - By Kenny Porpora - San Carlos Patch
In a letter signed by Mayor Andy Klein, San Carlos responded to the San Mateo County Grand Jury Report.

The letter agreed with most of the grand jury’s findings, disagreeing most heavily with the grand jury’s idea that Cal Fire was a viable option for the city’s fire protection services.

“A majority of the City Council members indicated by a straw poll vote of 3-2 that they do not believe that Cal Fire is a viable alternative for fire protection services by the County and the cities when considering regionalization or outsourcing alternatives,” the letter said.

The letter also partially disagreed with the jury’s note of both San Carlos and Belmont officials’ low expectations for mediation to be a success.

The Grand Jury’s report originally cited ‘missed opportunities’, and said the city’s pursuit of subcontracting with Cal Fire would have been more cost-effective, an option shot down by the Board of Supervisors in favor of reconciliation between San Carlos and then-partner Belmont.

The jury also recommends that Cal Fire be considered as an alternative when assessing changes to local-agency fire protection. San Carlos must respond to the letter by May 15.

On April 12, 2010, San Carlos notified Belmont that it would be ending their 31-year Joint Power Agreement, a separation that had been in the works since 2004. San Carlos’ decision, according to city officials at the time, was a cost-saving measure.

The Grand Jury report notes that the City of Good Living’s fire expenses had increased more than 30 percent between 2005 and 2010, and under the complicated cost-sharing formula it had worked out with Belmont, the city went from paying 47 percent of all costs to 53 percent.

San Carlos and Belmont experienced many failed negotiations and the decision to dissolve the relationship became official.

On September 16, 2010, the city hired TriData Consulting Firm out of Arlington, Va. to analyze options for thee city.

About a month later, TriData submitted an 85-page report to the city, outlining several options, the best of which, they said, would be Cal Fire, due to their ability to hire displaced employees, something other partnering cities
 could not do.

"That may be a deciding factor, said assistant city manager Brian Moura in October of 2010. "But it may not be. It depends on what the formal and final proposals look like. This is all still in the early stages."

The fire union took concern with Cal Fire's hiring of all fire personnel, however, due to their significantly lower salaries; salaries city employees would inherit should they contract with the county.

According to the Grand Jury report, often times, firefighters salaries are maintained even when picked up by Cal Fire.

Other suggestions from the consultant firm included the city's partnering with neighbor Redwood City, or possibly a three way split among San Carlos, Redwood City, and Cal Fire.

This distribution of services among the three, had it happened, would have limited station and equipment costs and would have allowed for more personnel to be hired, making it possible for the station to respond to more than one call at a time, said assistant city manager Brian Moura, at the time.

San Carlos sent out a call for RFP’s, and sought out proposals from North County Fire, San Mateo, and Menlo Park, in addition to Redwood City and Cal Fire.

On November 19, 2010, the city received a fax from Cal Fire director Ken Pilmott saying Cal Fire will not be submitting a bid for proposal, a decision that has surprised San Carlos officials.

“To be successful, it is imperative that there is support for these agreements amongst all the stakeholders, including public officials, local citizens and labor organizations,” said Ken Pimlott, the Cal Fire director in a fax sent to assistant city manager Brian Moura.

“In the case of the City of San Carlos, there is concern from regional Legislative members and significant opposition from local labor organizations. Lacking support from these stakeholders, a proposed partnership could face legal challenges and be cast in a negative light by the media and the community.”

The letter sent concern through government officials, who were expecting a bid from Cal Fire due to previous interest, and an unofficial bid sent back in March of 2010.

“Something changed in the last seven days,” said assistant city manager Brian Moura told San Carlos Patch at the time the letter was sent.

“Cal Fire submitted an unofficial proposal in March of this year, and two others in previous years when we’ve attempted this, so something changed in the last few days and I don’t know what it is.”

On January 17, 2011, city officials sat before the Boards Finance and Operations Committee and asked to contract with Cal Fire. The County instead wanted to see the city work out its relationship wih Belmont. Mediation between the two cities was suggested by Supervisors Carole Groom and Adrienne Tissier.

The city went on to contract with Redwood City after mediation was unsuccessful. The Grand Jury report states that while savings were made, the savings would have been greater had the city been allowed to subcontract with Cal Fire under the county’s contract.

Monday, April 2, 2012

CGJA: It's EZ - Get text updates of the Grand Jury News Blog!

by CGJA staff
To keep up with breaking news items of grand jury activity statewide, just text FOLLOW @cgja1 to 40404. Standard text and data rates apply. To stop receiving the text updates, text UNFOLLOW @cgja1 to 40404. Stay informed about your California grand jury system. To learn more about the system, watch AGENTS OF CHANGE.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Marin County's escalating pension costs rooted in 1970s 'scandalous' fiscal deceptions

By Nels Johnson - Marin Independent Journal
An escalating Civic Center pension pricetag that has left Marin County taxpayers facing debt of at least $700 million is rooted in what a grand jury 34 years ago called a "scandalous record" of deception by top officials.

Jurors said key county officials waged a disinformation campaign aimed at replacing Social Security with an "enriched" or enhanced local pension system that benefited top brass while costing taxpayers a bundle.

The full cost of the new program was understated and never funded, with debt estimated at $36 million in 1978 ballooning for years.

Officials at the time, like a number of those who followed, sought to maximize employee benefits while minimizing current costs, shifting the day of financial reckoning far into the future if assumptions proved faulty.

The 1977-78 civil grand jury, in an unusually fiery assessment, excoriated the 1978 Board of Supervisors and top county financial officials who orchestrated the move to drop Social Security benefits in return for enriching the existing county pension program — then already one of the richest in the state.

The action was taken without a financial study after what the jury said was a concerted effort that "borders on fraud" by cheerleading officials who covered up the facts and twisted the truth. Outside experts who warned the new program would benefit those at the top of the pay scale while hurting those at the bottom were ignored.

Workers get stiffed

At the time, employees benefited from both Social Security and a local pension program. But the local system, set up in 1950 under a 1937 state law, "is fundamentally inequitable to the lower-paid worker," Contra Costa County's pension chief said in a 1976 Civic Center forum, adding, "If you want to balance a system you should maintain your Social Security."

Social Security officials also noted then that the Marin system favored higher-paid workers at the expense of the rank and file because its funding formula hinged in large part on pay. Today, about half the cost of the county pension program is generated by several hundred former officials, with 150 retirees getting $100,000 or more a year, and more than 200 others getting annual pensions that exceed the county's average annual pay of $87,500.

But county supervisors were convinced they were doing the right thing; some walked out of or refused to attend board pension sessions led by Supervisor Denis T. Rice. Rice, who won election in 1976 after warning Marin's program was "running in arrears," eventually won concessions that have saved taxpayers $2 million a year since 1980, when he returned to private practice as a lawyer.

At the time, thanks to a 1974 benefit boost by supervisors, employees with 10 years of service could retire at 50, and county Treasurer-Tax Collector Stanley Fontez, head of the pension system, regarded the program as "rich, better than most" in the state, and headed efforts to make it even richer.

The $22 million gap

Auditor-Controller Michael Mitchell, an outspoken elected official, was also sold on the merits of dumping Social Security, contending that over six years it could save employees $9.8 million in take-home pay, while saving taxpayers $2.3 million. But Rice said Mitchell's calculations were based on faulty assumptions, and asserted the move would cost employees and taxpayers "more than $10 million" over six years.

After a bitter, chaotic campaign of conflicting assertions, including tense meetings in which officials sometimes traded angry, insulting commentary, employees in 1977 voted to remain in the Social Security system by a vote of 614 to 599. Supervisors tossed out the vote, saying 138 ballots had been improperly punched, and employees in a second vote bailed out of the system on a tally of 799 to 573.

Employees, whose pay envelopes included leaflets advising them to dump the federal system, agreed to do so in a second vote. Supervisors Robert A. Roumiguiere, Arnold Baptiste and Gary Giacomini voted to withdraw from the federal system and beef up benefits of the local program, despite heated protests from Rice and Barbara Boxer, who noted no financial study had been done.

Rice said that county contributions to the system were artificially low, based on assumptions that kept county costs to a minimum despite big benefits. Although pay is a key factor in determining a pension, county funding was based on an assumption no pay raises would be given. At the same time, the calculations counted on an inflationary environment in which pension investments would earn 6 percent annually.

'This is cataclysmic'

By June 1978, a report by new actuaries concluded that, based on the enriched pension plan and an increase in county salaries of 4.5 percent a year, the program had an unfunded liability of $36 million that could triple, requiring the county to pay $2.3 million to $4.6 million more a year on top of the $3.5 million it already was paying. "This is horrendous. This is bad. This is cataclysmic. Stanley Fontez is guilty of gross ineptitude," Rice exclaimed after the actuary underscored his criticisms. "Fontez should resign."

Fontez stepped down the next month, returning to his home in Grass Valley, but the county never caught up with its pension payments, preferring to boost contributions $328,000 the next year under a "phase in" plan.

The 1977-78 grand jury said the Social Security, enriched local pension saga was reprehensible. "The county, the county employees and the taxpayers have been taken for an expensive ride" by officials more interested in political expediency than fiscal integrity, the panel concluded. "The past conduct of some county officials ... borders on fraud ... the present conduct of other officials ... has been ambiguous at best and irresponsible at worst," the jury declared, saying officials tried to "cover up deception on a large scale."

"The general public should review this scandalous record," the grand jury said, calling for further scrutiny of the "shenanigans" of officials.

Finance officials and county supervisors drew the jury's fire, with Fontez, chief architect of the move to bail from the federal system, singled out for special barbs. Jurors noted he was in line for both an "enriched" county pension and a Social Security check for which he was fully vested.

The report lauded Rice for his "unflagging leadership" in pursuing reform, and although benefits for new hires were cut back in 1980, funding the system continued to be anemic. An independent auditing firm refused to give the system a clean bill of health because it called an assumption regarding minimal inflation too risky.

More than three decades later, the liability Rice warned about had grown to at least $700 million when including retiree health care, under optimistic assumptions that count on a 7.5 percent annual growth in investments — eclipsing the 6 percent that experts including Warren Buffet and bond guru Bill Gross contend is prudent.

Ex-supervisors reflect

Former Supervisor Giacomini, who along with Rice is among the few key players of the 1970s saga still alive, noted that hindsight is always 20-20, and added that the problem with the pension system was not withdrawing from Social Security, but the lack of funding provided by the county over the years.

"It looked really good then," Giacomini recalled of enriching the local program, noting he followed the advice of the county's financial professionals, especially Mitchell, known as a taxpayer advocate, and Roumiguiere, a savvy real estate and business professional.

"The problem is not with us leaving Social Security," Giacomini reflected. "It's that we didn't fund the pension that was approved."

Former Supervisor Rice, who continues 32 years after leaving public office to argue for pension reform in Marin County, said that while a new funding plan was in place when he left office, officials later "returned to their old ways," promising employee benefits but not paying for them.

Today, Rice said, the Marin County Board of Supervisors presides over a pension program that is based on risky assumptions, doesn't have enough money to pay for the benefits it promises and requires future generations of Marin taxpayers to pick up the tab.

"It's just totally unrealistic," Rice said.

Contact Nels Johnson via email at