Monday, August 4, 2014
(Nevada County) Grand jury does its work; did The Union?
July 25, 2014
The Union of Grass Valley
By Diane Masini
Our grand jury should be commended for its diligent work in publishing 11 reports this past year. Five of the reports were the result of citizen complaints on issues that impact the community. Could this be an indication that all is not well in Nevada County?
Several of the reports released to the public in recent weeks generated criticism questioning whether our civil grand jury did its homework in performing a full investigation. As an active member and former board member of the California Grand Jurors’ Association and a follower of its news blog, I have seen firsthand the results when a jury issues a less than stellar report. The standard response from the subject entity is to cry foul, “the jury got it wrong,” “they did not interview the right people,” “the jury did not do proper research” or, “their research is old”.
The Union’s concern that “our civil grand jury did its homework in performing a full investigation before weighing in on local issues” indicates that The Union staff needs to do its homework. A better understanding of grand jury procedures and the Penal Code that governs its process could have made this editorial a learning tool for the citizens of our county. Instead, it leads one to think that the jury’s reports might not be factual and that the jury should “learn from the responses shared by members of the community.” Pray tell, what should the jury learn? The grand jury is the “watch dog” of government spending, and represents the taxpayers of the community. Their job is to investigate and verify facts then if warranted, report to the citizens their findings and recommendations, not fluff their reports to play nice. If they are doing their job, of course their reports will offend some and appease others. Those required by law to respond are required to agree or disagree with the facts and recommendations. If they disagree, they must state the reason why they disagree, as described by section 933.05 of the California Penal Code.
The comments “they did not interview the right people,” or, “I was not aware that the jury had interviewed anyone from that department/agency” have been heard about this year’s reports. How does one know if the jury interviewed the “right people or department/agency” or not? The jury and the interviewee are following penal code requirements acknowledging that it is a confidential interview and are not to be made known to anyone. Witnesses are admonished and agree to not to reveal to any person, except as directed by the court, what questions were asked or what responses were given or any other matters concerning the nature or subject of the investigation. A violation of this admonition is punishable as contempt of court. A judge can hold the person in contempt, and then levy a fine, sentence to jail time or demand that the person issue a public apology in the newspaper for not adhering to the confidentiality agreement. In addition, if the investigation indicates there is criminal intent, the DA can bring charges against the person as well. The Union staff should take heed here because on several occasions they have reported news of a grand jury investigation. That news came from confidential information leaked by someone who had total disregard for the admonishment oath he or she signed.
In my experience as a former Nevada County grand juror, I have firsthand knowledge of the training seminars and report writing workshops our jurors go through each year. When it comes to interviews, jurors are advised to not interview alone, rather to work in pairs or groups for accurate verification of what is said and to tape the interview if they feel is necessary. Once a report is written, the 19-member jury will not approve it for publishing until every fact is verified (triangulated). Following this procedure will insure that the grand jury’s findings are based on fact and its recommendations are constructive and achievable. The completed reports are reviewed by county counsel and the presiding judge to assure compliance with all legal requirements. Therefore, I find it inconceivable that any grand jury would sit in its little office at the Rood Center for a full year writing reports based on poor or incomplete investigations as The Union’s editorial suggests.
If they are doing their job, of course their reports will offend some and appease others.
To those who have voiced negative opinions regarding the reporting proficiencies of the 2014-2015 jury I say, “Step up to the plate!” Apply for the 2015-2016 Grand Jury.
The application to become a grand juror is located on the Nevada County Court’s website at: http://www.nevadacounty courts.com/services/jury_info/grand_jury_app.htm.
Diane Masini is a former board member of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.