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County seeks 19 grand for next Grand Jury

Available, interested citizens encouraged to apply
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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GRAND JURY MEET AND GREET

April 15: 6 p.m. at the Burns Room of the Placer County Office of Education, 360 Nevada Street in Auburn

April 19: 3 p.m. at the Jury Assembly Room of the Santucci Justice Center Courthouse, 10820 Justice Center Drive in Roseville

 

 

To apply, call (916) 408-6186 or visit www.placer.courts.ca.gov

The Superior Court of California is looking for 19 willing civil servants from Placer County with an interest in government and at least a little time on their hands.

The court issued a press release on Monday to announce its search for volunteers to serve on the county’s 2013-2014 Grand Jury, which is responsible for investigating public criminal claims and indicting individuals or agencies it finds guilty. Applications are open to any residents 18 or older who will have lived in Placer County for at least one year prior to the beginning of the one-year term, which starts July 1, 2013 and ends June 30, 2014.

Current jury foreman Al Erkel, a practicing lawyer from Granite Bay, described the duty of a grand juror as a crucial part of the government’s system of checks and balances.

“We are sort of a watchdog of local government. Not involving the state, not involving the federal, but if it involves county government, local agencies within our county, school districts, those sort of things, we can look into things both good and bad, so that is our primary function,” he said. “We occasionally get involved in criminal indictments.”

Rosalinda Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Placer County Superior Court, said volunteers are paid $25 per full monthly panel meeting and $10 per committee meeting, plus mileage reimbursements. Annual income is variable, because the jury sets its own meeting schedule.

Cruz said the job is best suited to people without particularly demanding schedules, as it requires a significant time commitment of about 25 to 30 hours per month.

“Sometimes those who have a full-time job that come on board … just decide it’s just too much of a commitment for them, and they decide to resign,” she said.

The jury typically has three to five holdovers a year, Cruz said, but jurors can only reapply once and then have to take a year off before they can reapply again. There are minimum qualifications, but most of those are evaluated in interviews before a panel of the grand jury advising judge, another judge who has advised the grand jury in the past, and the grand jury foreperson.

“(We want) somebody who could devote the time, somebody who’s obviously interested in the county and what’s going on, and somebody who’s a team player, because they do have to work in groups and come to decisions,” Cruz said. “Somebody with a fair character and sound judgment.”

Just months away from concluding his first term on the grand jury, Erkel said he will “probably” reapply and highly encourages anyone interested to do the same. He said it can be a “fun” public service, best left to people who are curious, respectful and willing to keep an open mind. Erkel found reward in the service itself, as it comes with complete autonomy but no actual political power.

“You feel good about looking into things that you think should be looked into. It’s very autonomous. We are completely independent. No one can tell us what to do, no one tells us we can’t do something … But we have no enforcement powers. We make recommendations. At the end of the year we prepare a report, which is really nothing more than our thoughts after having looked into it. We can’t force anybody to do anything … but it’s just public service,” he said. “It’s been a positive experience for me. It’s just a good group of people to work with.”

For applications or information, contact the court executive office at (916) 408-6186 or visit www.placer.courts.ca.gov. The grand jury will also sponsor two meet and greet sessions on April 15 and 19 to answer questions. Applications are due by 3 p.m. on May 17.