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Placer County grand jury seeking new members

By: Susan Belknap, Gold Country News Service
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If you are a good listener, eager to learn about local government and are committed to public service, the Superior Court of Placer County could have a job for you. “The grand jury has a one-year term that begins July 2, 2009 and ends June 30, 2010,” said jury foreman Rick Morgan, of Lincoln. This is Morgan’s second term as a grand jury member and his first experience as jury foreman. Morgan said he thinks many people have the wrong impression about membership and qualifications of being a grand jury member. He said to be considered for a position; applicants need to be a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 with residence in Placer County for a minimum of one year prior to service on the grand jury. Morgan said the grand jury membership requires a one-year commitment although service can be extended at the discretion of the presiding judge, whose position also rotates. Grand jury members spend at least 25 hours per month attending committee meetings, writing reports and various other duties. “Sometimes we like members to continue their service to maintain some continuity from year to year,” Morgan said. Jack Morris, of Loomis, served on the grand jury 10 years ago and found it very worthwhile. “It is one of the most rewarding experiences that a citizen of the community can do. It gives you an understanding of what’s going on in the community regarding service to the public,” he said. The grand jury is advised by the Superior Court, but is not accountable to elected officials or government employees. Its findings and recommendations are unbiased and impartial. Grand jurors are sworn to secrecy and other than the final reports the jury files each year, their work is kept confidential. The grand jury is required by law to issue a final report on its findings and recommendations. The reports become public record and are available for public review. According to Morgan, the grand jury can take on three types of cases. The jury can investigate citizen complaints; act as a watchdog on the local government and assist in criminal matters at the request of the district attorney. Its function as watchdog can involve examining how public funds are spent, reviewing conditions in jails and other detention centers and responding to willful misconduct in office. The grand jury can recommend ways to increase efficiency, improve services and save taxpayer dollars. As for citizen complaints, any private citizen, county official or employee can ask the grand jury to investigate a complaint about an agency within the grand jury’s jurisdiction. The third type of case the grand jury can consider are those of a criminal nature. In Placer County the criminal function is infrequently utilized. In a criminal case the district attorney may ask the grand jury to determine whether there is enough evidence to show an individual may have committed a felony crime. But a grand jury indictment is not a finding of legal guilt or innocence. Criminal inquiries are conducted in the strictest secrecy, as are all grand jury hearings. Although Brad Fenocchio, Placer County district attorney, said he has never personally taken a case to the grand jury, he said the grand jury is “the conscious” of the community.” “It’s like a cross check,” Fenocchio said. “They listen to evidence and they have on occasion heard some of our cases.” Fenocchio said the grand jury is an effective part of our justice system. “They are 19 people who can make recommendations and the report they put out can be helpful. They are advisors and the impetus to get things looked into. The grand jury represents the tools that shed light on things that most people don’t know about.” For more information about grand jury service, call the Placer County Court Executive Office at 408-6186 or visit placer.courts.ca.gov.