It’s been described as “one of our county’s best kept secrets.”
The duties and responsibilities of that “best kept secret” — the San Joaquin Civil Grand Jury —were outlined to the Ripon Chamber of Commerce Governmental Relations Committee members last week in a noontime session at Bethany Town Square Apartments on Main Street in Ripon.
Jurors are impaneled for the course of a year from July through June.
Grand jury secretary Kenneth Buck told the group that agreeing to membership in the 19-member panel brought with it a fulltime job, saying a few have been able to fill its requirements even when owning their own businesses or even managing a business. Due to the intensity of service, most members are retired, he said.
He added that research committees of two jurors each are allowed to interview sources and do research independently at home on their computers, later reporting back to the full panel.
The Ripon committee was told that the jury acts as a “watchdog” in responding to community concerns and issues through the panel made up of 19 citizens. A final report is handed over to a judge to guarantee efficiency in governmental responsibility throughout the county.
The grand jury dates back to 12th century England and involves a civil grand jury, criminal grand jury and petit jury. It serves as a sentinel of interested citizens charged and sworn to investigate matters of civil concern.
The jurors are recruited by application, nomination and summons bringing experience from all walks of life from private and public service individuals. Any U.S. citizen, 18 years or older may apply to be on the grand jury but must have lived in San Joaquin County for a minimum of the past year and be of sound judgment and good character.
Anyone currently serving in an elected position may not serve or one who is serving on any jury anywhere in California. Jurors must also have a working knowledge of the English language sufficient to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.
Potential jurors must consider their obligations for the coming year and determine they will have no scheduling conflicts with their potential jury service. Pay for their service amounts to $15 a day plus any mileage they accrue. They meet each Wednesday and the foreperson is determined by a Superior Court judge.
Some standing committees include complaints, continuity, law and justice and public safety. Between the weekly meetings is another list of activities: committee work, computer work, research work and balance commitments.
The Jury serves as a guardian over the various functions of local governments by asking questions, conducting investigations, making recommendations and following up on prior efforts. Its aim is to promote efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of local governments throughout the county.
Presentations the jury makes throughout the year include the Council of Governments, Sheriff’s Department, Stockton Police Department, Office of Education, Health Department and the Regional Transit District (RTD).
Tours are conducted by the panel at such places as the Port of Stockton, Stockton Airport, Office of Emergency Services, San Joaquin County Jails, County Hospital as well as ride-a-longs with police, sheriff and fire departments.
The secretary to the court serves as the panel’s daily resource for all grand jury matters. And, prior to and during jury service, jurors receive training and guidance from court advisors. Report writing follows a prescribed format mandated by law and approved by a judge. Jurors take a lifetime oath of secrecy before serving on the Grand Jury.
It is authorized to investigate operations, accounts, records, efficiencies, effectiveness, the use and expenditures of tax monies and materials of offices, departments and the functions of the county, cities or joint powers, housing authorities, special purpose assessing or taxing districts including LAFCO, school districts and fire districts.
The Grand Jury is limited in its investigations to any state or federal entity except for prisons with the boundaries of the county.
The November speaker for the chamber’s Governmental Services Committee will be Harry Mavrogenes director of the Stockton Airport.