Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ain't it Grand? The Luck of the Draw

Orange County Courthouse

"I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by
man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its
constitution." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1789.

Last December I saw a notice posted at my Westminster library, calling for applicants for the 2018-2019 Grand Jury. Curious, I picked up one of the flyers and studied it carefully. I've served on both municipal and Superior Court juries in the past, and from time to time hear that a Federal Grand Jury or a County Grand Jury has summoned people to provide testimony. Certainly in the past year, I've heard about indictments issued. But I was uncertain about the basic differences between regular jurors and Grand Jurors, Federal or County. I decided to look into the matter more closely.

A grand jury is a body that investigates criminal conduct. Federal, state and county prosecutors utilize grand juries to decide whether probable cause exists to support criminal charges. ​A regular jury – aka a petit jury – hears only trial cases. A regular jury decides the facts.

 While I was researching, I also took a closer look at what is expected of us as citizens. Below are the rights and responsibilities of United States citizens, as enumerated on the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration official website.

  • Freedom to express yourself.
  • Freedom to worship as you wish.
  • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
  • Right to run for elected office.
  • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
  • Support and defend the Constitution.
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
  • Participate in the democratic process.
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Serve on a jury when called upon.
  • Defend the country if the need should arise.

In Orange County, the Grand Jury’s responsibilities include:
  • Ensuring that the performance of county, city, and other local agencies is proper and ethical;  
  • Providing recommendations to government agencies for improvement;
  • Responding to citizen complaints about local government agencies;
  • Ensuring that our local tax dollars are wisely spent; 
  • Evaluating conditions at our county’s jails;  Issuing indictments for serious crimes.
What qualifications do Grand Jurors need to have?
  • Citizen of the United States.
  • 18 years of age or older.
  • Resident of state and county or city and county for one year prior to being selected.
  • In possession of natural faculties, ordinary intelligence, sound judgment, fair character.
  • Possess sufficient knowledge of the English language.
  • A general knowledge of the functions, authorities and responsibilities of the county and city governments and other civil entities.
  • Research abilities, including complex reading capabilities, background in accessing/analyzing facts and report writing.
  • Substantial background in group/committee work.
  • Respect and objectivity concerning the positions and views of others.
As I browsed the Grand Jury website, I found that Orange County first empanelled a Grand Jury in Santa Ana in 1890. That was the year that Grandma Gertie was born, also Santa Ana, CA.
Grandma Gertie, born 1890, Santa Ana, CA
  Our country doesn't ask a great deal of us once we age out of the cohort needed to defend our country from attacks, I decided. Additionally, we seniors who don't have a lot of money to contribute to causes we espouse, still can contribute our time. It's just a year I concluded. I could give a year to an entity born the very same year as Grandma Gertie. It's fate.

So I filled out an eight-page application, attached a recent resume, and had it notarized, as required.

The selection process of potential Grand Jurors covered several months, including an orientation session at the Superior Court for all 150+ applicants. After learning that Grand Jurors report to work five days a week, and prepare their own reports without help from administrative assistants, a handful of applicants lined up to withdraw their paperwork. I persevered. In my seventies in NE Washington, I'd served eight years on the Washington State Medical Commission as a public member, traveling to Seattle or Olympia every few weeks. So I'd learned a great deal about the process of responding to citizen complaints. Plus, I'd enjoyed getting an insider's view of how another branch of government works.

Soon I received notification that I was one of 90 who had been screened and cleared to continue the process. I'd be undergoing a background investigation by the Orange County Sheriffs Department. Moreover, I'd have an interview with two Superior Court judges, who would decide whether or not to nominate me for the final 30. Ideally, the judges select five qualified candidates from each of the five supervisory districts.

One day I received an email notifying me that I was in the final 30 and would receive a court summons. Soon a sheriff appeared at my door with a summons. He asked my name, handed me the summons and smiled.

"Thank you for your service," he said. "Believe me, we who work for the County, appreciate it."

Those words of appreciation from a uniformed officer who puts his life on the line daily for his fellow citizens, touched me deeply. Of course I thanked him, as well.

Orange County has a unique process for determining the 19 who constitute its Grand Jury. The thirty finalists are issued a summons to appear in court, and their names are placed in a box. Nineteen names are drawn, one by one. Those 19 will constitute the Grand Jury. The remaining names are then drawn by random selections, as alternates. If a vacancy occurs during the upcoming year, the alternates will be called upon, in the order drawn.

So it all came down to sitting in Superior Court with my fingers crossed. I'd come this far, and hoped to be among the first nineteen. I was not. I am #21, the Number Two Alternate Juror. Some years the Grand Jury calls upon no alternates. Other years, all 11 end up serving. I still have a chance of making the panel later in the year. In the meantime, the entire 30 finalist will be attending four days if training in June. 

Whether or not I eventually have a chance to serve, I still have the opportunity to get an overview of how the County Counsel and District Attorney's offices function. 

I have one more task, to complete an autobiography questionnaire. This will go into the Procedures Manual that is given to each juror/alternate at orientation. I'll be compiling my answers over this weekend. There's not enough room for me to answer two of the questions: tell us bout interesting places you have lived or traveled and have you volunteered for any activities in your community or in the county?

Thanks to a previous volunteer experience, my years of service with the United States Peace Corps, I'd need several pages for a comprehensive response to the first question. For the second, I'll need to allude to my former activities in Stevens County, WA, as an AmeriCorps/VISTA, and my current work as a California AARP Congressional District 47 volunteer representative.

For those who've been inquiring about why I would want to volunteer yet again, and this time for something that offers no travel delights beyond the borders of Orange County, I suspect the simple answer is I have an addiction. Hey, volunteering is what I do. I'm hooked.

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