Monday, July 10, 2017
[Kings County] New Grand jury takes oath
HANFORD – There's a new Kings County grand jury in town.
Monday was the day the broad investigative powers of the grand jury – a longstanding county institution that gets an infusion of new people each year –got transferred from outgoing 2016-2017 members to the new class of 2017-2018 members.
Roughly 20 people, some of them returnees from the outgoing class but most of them new to the job, took the oath of office from Judge Shane Burns.
The grand jury has broad authority to investigate any kind of government activity by any entity in Kings County and issue public reports.
The grand jury can also investigate all types of public officials for suspected misconduct or malfeasance.
The grand jury can issue criminal indictments to individuals, or it can recommend prosecution of an individual or individuals after hearing evidence presented by the Kings County District Attorney's Office.
Grand jurors are expected to attend three meetings a week and receive $15 per meeting. They also receive a 54 cents-per-mile reimbursement for driving from their residences to the grand jury chambers in Lemoore, where the meetings take place.
Unlike virtually every other area of government in which openness is generally required by law, secrecy is mandated for the grand jury.
It is a crime for them to disclose their deliberations or votes to anybody on the outside.
Nearly every person sworn in Monday is retired.
Lemoore resident Karen Ormsby said she expects to spend 20-30 hours per week on investigations.
"I've always wanted to do it, but because I had a full-time job, I couldn't," said Ormsby, a semi-retired nurse.
Ormsby said the the grand jury's job is to "investigate any of the proposals that are going on in the community, and offer some insight and direction."
"I think it's a good service," she said.
"I'm retired, and I need to do something other than just sitting at home," said Lemoore resident Ronney Wong.
Wong said he takes the responsibilities of the grand jury "very seriously."
Former Kings County Supervisor and retired CHP officer Tony Barba said he was asked to serve, and he felt he needed to accept it.
"I have the experience on the board [of supervisors], so I know pretty much what's going on," he said.
Barba said he views the grand jury as a "watchdog" keeping an eye on government and officials in government.
Burns spent roughly 20 minutes reading to the new grand jurors a legally required statement spelling out their powers and responsibilities under the law.
Burns said that to avoid the appearance of bias, any grand jurors with known or suspected conflicts of interest should disclose said conflicts.
Burns said failure to do so would undermine public confidence in the grand jury's impartiality.
"Keep this in front of your minds at all times," he said.
Burns said grand jurors may get publicly criticized for their work, but should ignore it and do their duty.
"This is not a responsibility that you should take lightly," he told them.
July 6, 2017
By Seth Nideber