Friday, March 24, 2017
A year in the life of a Shasta County grand juror
Blog note: this is a comprehensive statement about what grand juries do.
Last June, seated in a courtroom, along with a small crowd of other prospective grand jurors, I waited in anticipation to see whether my name would be called from the small pool of applicants.
Few people are willing to give a year of their lives to the work of the grand jury — investigating and reporting on the operations of local governments here in Shasta County. It will require at least 15 hours a week from each of us — and most will spend 20 or more hours weekly at committee meetings, interviews and as part of report writing teams. Those seated with me in the courtroom have passed interviews and reference checks to become potential jurors. Now we will pass the final test, the random drawing.
Later that same morning, we are sworn in by the judge. A team of 19 jurors, instantly comrades, united in our confidential work as local government watchdogs. We receive our badges, our keys, our training binders and instructions to report the next morning. Our new world is opening up.
Our first week as grand jurors is a dizzying and highly educational array of informational meet-and-greets. We hear presentations from VIPs representing every major aspect of city and county government, including leaders from Shasta County Office of Education, Health and Human Services, Redding Police Department, the County Administrative Office and so many more. We take notes continuously, mostly on our impressions of these leaders, who we have, so far, known only at a distance. Now these important people personally answer our curious questions and reach out a collegial hand.
Over the following weeks we are introduced to our new home, the grand jury offices, a nondescript and unmarked location with shaded windows and ever-locked doors, in the heart of downtown. This is where the bulk of the grand jury’s work occurs, and here we gather for the first time as an official plenary to sort ourselves into one of seven committees and choose our committee leaders. I take up work as chair of the City Committee, co-chair of an ad hoc committee, and member of the Criminal Justice Committee.
And so the work begins in earnest. Three or more times a week we meet with other grand jurors to sort through citizen complaints, choose investigations and determine a strategic plan. We are an intelligent bunch, some quiet, others charismatic. We hold to a mixture of religious and political views. But all of us are united by deep curiosity and an unfailing desire to serve our community.
As summer shifts to fall we settle into our approved areas of investigation. Lists of necessary interviews are collated and week after week we admonish members of city, county and district government and question them on confidential matters. We send out official requests to various department heads and gain the necessary documents to corroborate the information we’ve gathered during our interviews. Slowly, our knowledge grows and we begin to verify the pertinent facts of our investigations.
Mid-winter, as rain falls, we begin to write our reports. The process will take several months. We start with the facts, write them into narrative form and then compile recommendations that we will make to county, city or district officials. Each fact is checked and rechecked, every government dollar confirmed from multiple sources. Each committee will spend weeks perfecting these reports before passing them on for additional scrutiny. The reports will be vetted by the Editorial Committee and revised by the full plenary of jurors. Our legal adviser, the county counsel, will review them for legal compliance before they are approved by the presiding judge.
Over the next few months we will wrap up our term on the grand jury. We’ll conduct exit interviews with members of our local government to confirm final details of our reports. We’ll collect a single copy of every document and interview we used in our final reports into paper and electronic files that will be saved for five years. We’ll shred everything else and clear our computers. We’ll have a few more parties, and form deeper friendships. Then we’ll help to recruit a new team of jurors to replace us next year.
The grand jury is recruiting for 2017/18. The term begins June 26 and ends the following June. To learn more about grand jury service or to volunteer for the grand jury, go to www.shastacountygrandjury.org or call the Superior Court at 530-245-6761.
March 20, 2017
By Annelise Pierce