Courthouse officials are putting the call out for prospective county watchdogs interested in scrutinizing local governance and getting a closer look at high-profile criminal investigations, as the recruitment deadline nears for the Orange County grand jury.
Prospective grand jurors have until Jan. 17 to apply to become one of 19 people to serve during an upcoming, year-long term beginning July 1.
Orange County grand jurors, unlike many in the country, serve a dual role, both carrying out oversight of public agencies – including county, city and school operations – and considering indictments sought by prosecutors against suspects in serious criminal investigations.
Court leaders say the challenge is drawing a large, diverse group of applicants that reflects the geographic, ethnic and professional backgrounds of the county’s residents. The members of the grand jury are pulled equally from the five supervisorial districts.
“The strength of the jury system is its diversity,” said Kirk H. Nakamura, presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court. “People come in from various different backgrounds to give different perspectives on an issue.”
Court officials say in the past they have struggled to draw more applicants from district 1, which includes Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster and a portion of Fountain Valley, and district 4, which includes Brea, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia and portions of Anaheim and Buena Park.
The court generally gets around 150 prospective grand jurors, officials said, a pool of candidates that is winnowed down to 30 following interviews with sitting judges before the final 19 grand jurors are chosen at random.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and have lived in Orange County for at least a year. Grand jurors are given a $50 a day stipend, and are expected to essentially work 40-hour weeks.
Grand jurors have wide latitude to choose the focus of their investigations, and tools such as subpoena power and the cloak of confidential deliberations, to carry out their inquiries. Public agencies are required by law to respond to grand jury reports.
Along with front page controversies such as the controversial use of informants in county jails, grand jurors in recent years have conducted investigations that had direct impacts on local communities, court officials said.
Nakamura pointed to an investigation into the closure of Irvine Lake, which was closed for several years in the midst of a dispute over recreation rights and revenue. The judge noted that pressure from the grand jury helped spur the discussions between public officials that led to the man-made lake being re-opened in June.
“They feel a large sense of accomplishment,” Nakamura said of the previous grand jurors he has spoken to. “They did something that is meaningful and significant for Orange County.”
Officials are asking anyone who wants information or wishes to apply to call 657-622-6747 or visit www.ocgrandjury.org.
Source: Orange County Register