Before I explain the concept of civil grand jury let me make it clear that there’s a huge difference between a criminal grand jury and a civil grand jury.
First it is not a criminal grand jury so it does not decide the guilt or innocence of the accused.
But it may recommend the same to the District Attorney that he take action if their investigations reveal that the certain crime committed by public officials.
The criminal grand jury is called by the district attorney on an as-needed basis.
It is the basis for the purpose of determining if there’s enough evidence to hold someone over for trial.
On the other hand, Civil Grand Jury has a selection process that it goes through and the commitment is for one full year.
They serve 3 to 5 days a week for an entire year but anywhere from 15 to 35 hours per week and beyond the first month of the year.
So it is a big time commitment but an extremely rewarding one at the same time.
What type of people make up the civil grand jury?
The civil grand jury is made up of people from all backgrounds for Petit jury service which is when you’re called to go and sit and see if you’re put on as a trial juror.
They use driver’s license records and voting registration records to select those panels but for the civil grand jury we actually go through an application and screening process.
So our application period is from early January through mid April.
People interested in serving complete.
An application there’s an interview process interviewed by outgoing jurors as well as by a panel of judges and then ultimately the people who are selected to serve is literally names drawn out.
Well, I think that’s so fair and so if you wanted to apply for the grand jury that would be in January, starting in early to mid-January.
Applications can be obtained from jury services at the county of Ventura or the grand jury has a website.
It is linked to the county of Ventura website.
So you can get to the website by either simply searching on Google Ventura County grand jury or go to the county website and from the drop-down menu select the grand jury.
The application form is available there you can print it, fill it out and submit it.
Now, I have a couple of things.
What is a civil grand jury?
Grand jury is a civil investigatory panel of 19 citizens only.
So you don’t have a deadlock in a vote.
It is created to serve as a voice of the people and a conscience of the community.
A Civil Grand Jury is responsible to serve as an inspector which receives complaints by citizens and then investigate the matter with respect to the performance of the public officials.
I think that it’s remarkable that community conscience jurors are not appointed by politicians; they are volunteers who act as independent eyes and ears.
In Ventura County residents sort of like a community watchdog and most of the work is investigations that are initiated by public complaint throughout the year.
How does the Civil Grand Jury work?
Civil grand jury receive complaints from the public concerning issues relating to County, City and other local government entities and consider those complaints whether it is within the jurisdiction or not.
And if it is, then also of course we have to look at our resources in terms of time and personnel to decide which specific complaints they will pursue.
But at the end of the investigation they ultimately issue a report that gives the facts that became aware of the findings or conclusions that they draw from those facts.
And then making recommendations to government entities as to how the government might improve operations.
Make better use of taxpayer money and better serve the taxpayers.
Civil grand juries are not involved in crime in fact if it receives a complaint that seems to have a criminal element to it.
We would refer that immediately to the district attorney’s office for pursuit.
What are the duties of a Civil Grand Jury?
Well some of the things that says the grand jury is authorized to do is;
- Investigate complaints of government mismanagement.
- Verifying that public funds are properly accounted for and legally spent.
- Inspect conditions of all detention centers and jails.
- Inquire into charges of willful misconduct by public officials or employees.
So off the top of your head can you think of an example of a complaint you might pursue?
Well I can do that in relation to some of our past reports.
Some years ago, everyone was well aware of the Camarillo Springs fire and they received a complaint relating to why firefighting air assets were not deployed sooner in order to limit the spread of the fire.
So they conducted an investigation of that issue and ultimately issued a report outlining what some of the issues were and how the county might resolve those issues?
They made some specific recommendations.
This is an example I bought at a show-and-tell of how much work these people do in a single year.
This is a lot of work for volunteers.
It’s a Ventura County grand jury final report 2013 – 2014.
So the list of reports looks like you took care of campgrounds, Park hosts, water rates, campaign finances, temporary food facilities, public charter school processes, claim process, crosswalk alerts, firefighting air assets and they commute.
As I stated that the Camarillo spring fire healthcare records processes and procedures city of Ventura hillside grading permit.
So that was more fair and more exciting.
Another exciting Moorpark zoning compliance tracking and reporting detention facilities, inspections grand jury communities and support functions and a whole bunch more.
That’s all one for nineteen people one years worth of work.
Now these reports are available to the public.
So, how would a public member obtain a report?
Again going to the grand jury website, you would be able to find all of the reports that have been issued and the website has reports all the way back into the 1990s or possibly the 1980s.
I can’t remember the exact start date so when the reports are initially issued they are posted on the website and with each report they make recommendations to specific government entities for how operations might be improved.
And those government entities are required to respond to their recommendations indicating whether they agree or disagree with their findings and what recommendations they are planning to implement.
If they’re not planning to implement them then why not?
So those responses then are also posted on the website along with the report so that the public can see not only what we have recommended but how the government has responded to that.
Also not beholden to you to respond as you request they just look at what you suggest and then they reply back to you as to why or why not maybe practical.
Civil grand juries have no enforcement authority so really their power comes from the citizens because they’re serving.
What are the qualifications for becoming a member of the civil grand jury?
I would categorize the qualification into two sections:
In order to be qualified for becoming the member of the civil grand jury, you must be an expert or you must have skills in any of the interest such as interest in governmental services, prisons and law enforcement, fire protection, health care, child abuse, pensions, water and sewage or special districts, hence any of the administrative expertise.
- Resident of the county.
- You must be 18 years or older.
- Must have been a resident of the county for at least one years.
- Should be able to commit up to 20 hours per week during your year of grand jury service.
- Must be comfortable working in a “team” environment.
- Having the power of public persuasion.
- Must be willing to keep your deliberations secret.