Monday, August 4, 2014
(Marin County) Marin Voice: Join the grand jury and help improve government in Marin
August 3, 2014
Marin Independent Journal
By Judge Faye D’Opal
The concept of a grand jury, an investigatory body created for the protection of society and the enforcement of the law, dates back to the 11th century.
By 1215 the Magna Carta included a guarantee that no freeman would be "imprisoned or exiled or in any way destroyed, except by the lawful judgment of his peers."
In 1635, the Massachusetts Bay Colony impaneled the first U.S. grand jury to consider cases of murder, robbery, and wife beating. The U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution call for grand juries.
There are two types of grand juries in California: criminal grand juries that review allegations of criminal conduct; and civil grand juries that investigate the workings of local government.
The 19 members of Marin's civil grand jury are charged with examining and evaluating procedures and systems of all aspects of county and city government and special districts to ensure that the best interests of Marin County citizens are being served.
The civil grand jury may inspect financial transactions to ensure that public funds are properly accounted for and legally spent; inquire into the conditions of jails and detention centers; inquire into charges of willful misconduct in office by public officials or employees; review public programs and initiatives to ascertain whether they are effective, and investigate and take action on confidential writings from citizens alleging concerns about officials or governmental entities.
In these times, the independent and objective consideration of facts brought before the civil grand jury remain confidential and jurors shall not at any time in their lifetime reveal the business of the jury to anyone.
Most of its "watchdog" findings describe issues pertaining to local governments and make recommendations for solutions.
During its term, the civil grand jury identifies specific issues that will be investigated by the jurors and final reports on the issues will be made available to the public.
Our county Board of Supervisors, as well as city and special district governance bodies, must comment on the civil grand jury's recommendations.
Each year, Superior Court judges, assisted by the Marin County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors' Association, seek volunteers to apply for service on the civil grand jury. Applications are sought from women and men of diverse socioeconomic levels and ethnic groups, ages 18 to 90. After applicants are interviewed by the court's judges, qualified prospective grand jurors are selected for service by placing their names in a lottery draw, conducted by the court.
Besides the opportunity to get an intimate look at how our local government works, the randomly selected residents appointed each year by the court's presiding judge work together, reach consensus and publish their detailed reports and recommendations.
For the individual who serves on the civil grand jury, it is a valuable learning experience about our community and a genuine contribution toward the betterment of our local government. The work of our civil grand jury is truly democracy in action.
The complex, diverse responsibilities of civil grand jurors requires a serious commitment to 15-20 hours per week over a period of 12 months.
Meeting facilities, parking, a nominal stipend, and reimbursement at regular county rate of mileage to and from meetings are provided.
For more information or to obtain a grand jury application, contact Patti Church, aide to the grand jury, Marin County Civil Grand Jury, 3501 Civic Center Drive, Room 275, San Rafael 94903, or contact her at 473-6132 or by email at PChurch@marincounty.org.
Judge Faye D'Opal is the presiding judge of the Marin County Superior Court.