With the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, court officials are searching for those interested in scrutinizing local governance and playing a key role in major criminal investigations as part of the Orange County grand jury.
Prospective grand jurors have until March 5 to apply to serve a year-long term beginning on July 1.
For jurors, safety measures will be in place, including social distancing in courthouses, a mask requirement and the regular sanitizing of facilities. Grand jurors will get laptops so they can work at home if they as a group choose to do so.
The grand jury could end of examining the effects of the pandemic itself on city or county government, law enforcement, schools, transportation agencies or jails.
“I’ve got to imagine as we come out of this COVID pandemic there is going to be a lot of evaluation and assessment of how we respond to these kinds of emergencies in the future,” said Maria D. Hernandez, assistant presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court.
“I really think this pandemic has revealed a lot of silver linings and good things, but it has also exposed some of our weaknesses that perhaps we weren’t ready for,” the judge said.
Unlike their counterparts in most other jurisdictions, the same Orange County grand jurors handle both oversight of public agencies and the consideration of indictments sought by prosecutors against suspects in major criminal investigations.
As a result, officials are looking for a large, diverse group of applicants who reflect the geographic, ethnic and professional backgrounds of Orange County residents.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and have lived in the county for at least a year. They are given a $50 daily stipend and mileage reimbursement in return for essentially 30-hour workweeks.
“We want the diversity, we want somebody who has the ability to work and communicate with others,” Hernandez said. “You need to have personalities that are reasonable, that are fair-minded, that are able to exercise good judgment.”
Grand jurors can choose the focus of their investigations, and they have tools such as subpoena power. Public agencies are required by law to respond to grand jury reports.
“They are exposed to something that most people will never have the opportunity to see – the internal workings of some of these major agencies and how the governance of those agencies work,” Hernandez said.
“This body is so unique in that they are free from any political or official bias. They are not impacted by a political agenda.”
Following interviews with sitting judges, the pool of prospective grand jurors will ultimately be winnowed to 30 candidates, with the final 19 chosen at random.
Those wishing to apply or looking for information can call 657-622-6747 or visit www.ocgrandjury.org.
Source: Orange County Register