Sunday, February 10, 2019
[Marin County] Marin Voice: Join the grand jury and make a difference
The civil grand jury is an institution that many people are either unaware of or misunderstand. It is easily confused with either regular jury service or grand juries that are impaneled for a specific criminal case.
All 58 counties in California impanel a civil grand jury each fiscal year to investigate or inquire into county matters of civil concern.
The press is generally considered to be the chief watchdog with regard to elected officials. However, unlike the grand jury, the press doesn’t have subpoena power or the backing of state law to require responses to their articles and editorials.
The civil grand jury is empowered to investigate all bodies consisting of elected officials, to report on the findings of the investigations and to make recommendations if warranted. This would include but would not be limited to the Board of Supervisors, city councils and the more than 100 special districts in Marin County.
By law, all elected boards, municipal councils and elected officials are required to respond to grand jury reports by addressing the specific findings and recommendations in these reports. These governing bodies must respond to the findings and recommendations no later than 90 days after a grand jury submits a final report.
The respondents are required to include an explanation if they disagree with findings. Further, they must indicate whether recommendations have been implemented, will be implemented in the future with a time frame for implementation or lastly, the recommendation requires further analysis.
When discussing the civil grand jury with people, the response I’ve most often heard is that “while it’s great that we have a grand jury, there isn’t any follow-up and most recommendations aren’t implemented.” While this may be true sometimes, more often many of the recommendations are implemented in whole or partially.
For example, after a grand jury report on the Community Service Fund in 2001, the Board of Supervisors implemented significant changes to the program which included disallowing discretionary grants by individual supervisors and adding distributions as line items to the budget requiring approval by the entire Board. In 2013, in response to a follow-up report by the grand jury, supervisors amended the program by reducing the available funding for a second time, requiring accountability from the recipient and unanimous board approval.
Another example: A 2014 report and follow-up report in 2018 recommending the implementation of on-body cameras by law enforcement agencies has resulted in all but one police force in Marin adopting this practice.
To serve on the grand jury, you must be 18 or older, a U.S. citizen and a resident of Marin County for at least a year. You should also be computer literate and able to invest 10-20 hours a week for one year.
What are some of the benefits of serving on the grand jury? You have access to and are able to interact with elected officials throughout the county. You learn how well local government works or doesn’t work.
You are mandated to tour San Quentin State Prison and the county jail, gaining valuable insight into these facilities. Additionally, you are introduced to 18 other citizens with whom you are able to forge new and interesting relationships.
If this sounds like something you might be interested in learning more about, a good place to start would be by reading some of the previous grand jury reports. They can be found at: marincounty.org/depts/gj/reports-and-responses. Here you can also find a link to an online application. The deadline for applications is April 22.
February 9, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Tom Borden, president of the Marin chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association. He also served on the Marin grand jury.