Wednesday, May 17, 2017
How this group of former San Bernardino County Grand Jury members remain friends
They range in age from 69 to 92 and for one incredible year in their lives they were the watchdogs of the public interest.
“They” are the members of a San Bernardino County Grand Jury, retired for 16 years.
Retired from their responsibilities but not from their friendships.
Between July 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001, these San Bernardino County men and women had the power to seek out and report inefficiencies in county government and corruption in high office.
It was their responsibility to examine the functions of county government with a goal to improve it.
The Grand Jury plays a distinctly different role in the judicial system. It is composed of 19 people from a group of 30 nominated each year by the Superior Court judges.
The nominees names are placed in a jury wheel and on the day of appointment (usually mid-June), the clerk of the court spins the wheel and draws the 19 names — one at a time.
Kind of like “Wheel of Fortune.”
On a sunny day in April, the retired Grand Jury convened for lunch at Arrowhead Country Club — as they have every month for 16 years.
I had the opportunity to join them and met Pat Murray, Roxanne Orrock, Maureen Godfrey, Sandra Diaz, Jury Foreman Willis Boyd and his wife, Virginia, Sue Shuey, and Clark Hansen, legal advisor.
There was even an adopted juror, Millie Henson, who served on the 1993-94 Grand Jury.
After being sworn in as Grand Jurors, they felt they did a good job throughout the year fulfilling their obligations, several members said.
They left as their legacy the recommendations for the seismic retrofitting of the historic 1926 county courthouse, televising of County Supervisors meetings and making them more understandable to the public, and criticizing the county assessors office for being too management heavy.
This jury had a couple of high-profile cases to its credit, although those cases do not define them.
“We were the Grand Jury that indicted Jerry Eaves and serial killer Wayne Adam Ford — plus we investigated the county and made worthwhile decisions during our service,” said Godfrey, a retired nurse who is considered one of the “organizers” of the group.
Jury foreman Willis Boyd, a retired stockbroker, called the luncheon to order.
“There are only three reasons we still get together — Maureen, Roxanne and Sandy. Those three ladies created the idea, put the emphasis behind it and have been instrumental in making it work,” he said.
“You see, after we were retired, we continued to meet monthly for birthday celebration lunches,” Maureen said, “and Sandy and Roxanne provided the dessert and centerpieces — it’s really a group effort.”
After years of retirement, the remaining group of about nine men and women still enjoys each others’ company and celebrates with the mini-reunions, catching up on each others’ personal lives — family, health, travels.
Members, which originally totaled 19, are all retired from their professions as well — trial lawyer, bailiff, administrative assistant, railroad worker, nurse.
Being a grand jury member is a commitment. Lots of work, maybe two, three or four days a week.
Case loads vary, according to the number of indictments.
Members of the Grand Jury were paid $25 per day — and still are — not quite enough to retire on. They get a mileage reimbursement of 34 cents a mile.
To help me better understand what it’s like to serve on a Grand Jury, Maureen read a letter written by Alvaro (Al) Alcantara, a fellow juror who passed away in 2006.
His words summed up his yearlong experience:
“What a blast! Too bad it only lasts a year. I had a blast and I did not spend a fortune, and learned some things, too. ... It did not seem to matter to them my education was high school, barely. It did not matter to me that some were educated with a capital ‘E.’ I got to mingle with nurses, bankers, real estate brokers, ex-law enforcement personnel, and former city council members ... A whole lot of people are dedicated to the welfare of children and adults, and they are to be praised. I want to believe I made a difference during my trip, but only history can bear this out.
“What I remember most of all is the respect. You can’t buy it, you may earn it, but it is there. You can’t call a travel agency to take this trip, you don’t plunk down a credit card, and they don’t take cash. All it takes is a determination that you won’t bail out during the trip and that you will take the laughter and the eating and some seriousnesss, too.
It’s a Grand Jury Tour. It is investigating, it is reinvestigating and reinvestigating. It is calling black, black and white, white. It is not ignoring a wrong, but trying to change it. If ever a citizen of this county can apply pressure legally to county government, it is as an officer of the court as a sworn member of the County Grand Jury. So be one. It is a privilege.
Two, three, four days per week. It is mostly in the middle of the week, so you still have your weekends. You won’t get money rich on the per diem, but you will get pride rich.”
Alvaro was a smart man.
May 12, 2017
San Bernardino County Sun
By Michel Nolan