Saturday, August 11, 2012

(Stanislaus Co) MORAD: No mind-set, just facts used by county grand jury

By Carmen Morad - The Modesto Bee, OPINION/COMMUNITY VOICES -

In his July 5 column about Modesto's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Jeff Jardine stated that the grand jury was wrong in its criticism of Councilman Dave Lopez.

Jardine said "blame the messenger" is alive and well in Modesto, and alleges a certain mind-set exists among the members of the civil grand jury to "hush up" political information.

A grand jury is a group of volunteers who are first screened by the presiding judge of the Superior Court in the county. The names of those who pass the screening are put into a hat and drawn to determine who will serve on the grand jury, along with several alternates who will serve should anyone in the first group have to drop out.

They are sworn in to serve for one year.

They are not employees of the county. Rather they are unpaid volunteers receiving only reimbursement for their mileage and a very small stipend for each meeting to cover expenses. The grand jury is an arm of the Superior Court and not at all a political body.

The grand jury has two basic functions:

• To investigate complaints of misconduct against public officials and render recommendations pursuant to Penal Code section 922 and Government Code section 3060 et seq., and

• To be the public's watchdog by investigating and reporting on the affairs of local government agencies pursuant to Penal Code sections 919, 925, et. seq.

Jury members immediately receive extensive training in all aspects of investigation, research, witness interviewing and report writing. They are also taught to triangulate all evidence (use more than one method to determine the validity of the evidence).

They break into committees, each to investigate a different type of complaint. They receive complaints from myriad places regarding public entities. They also have the ability to open an inquiry themselves if they become aware of a happening that needs investigating. They also are charged with inspecting public entities such as jails.

Once a complaint is received or an inquiry is opened, it is assigned to the appropriate committee. Not all complaints are pursued. Some lack merit. The complainant is notified of the decision not to pursue.

When the allegations have merit, extensive research commences and witnesses are interviewed. The information is received from research, all aspects of the inquiry are researched and all participants in the alleged complaint are investigated. The investigation and witnesses interviews are confidential and do not leave the grand jury room, ever.

Jury members have access to legal advisers such as county counsel, district attorney, Attorney General and the presiding judge as resources, along with the law.

When all research is completed, all witnesses have been interviewed and all evidence has been triangulated, a report is written. The report sets forth the evidence and makes recommendations based on that evidence to the public agency that is the subject of the report.

It is not unusual to have a number of recommendations in a report, as in the case Jardine references. The report is then presented to the entire grand jury, where all members have the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions.

When the report is approved by a supermajority of the grand jury, it is presented to the presiding judge for approval and/or suggestions.

After the report is approved by the presiding judge, it is either released at that time, or held to be included in the final report of the grand jury at the end of the term. A copy is sent to the public agency for an answer at that time.

Jardine alleged a certain mind-set in his column. A mind-set, other than getting to the truth, does not exist in a grand jury. When an inquiry is opened, the grand jury members just follow the evidence.

Carmen Morad is president of the Stanislaus County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors' Association.

No comments: