Santa Clara County Superior Court is taking applications for the 2022 CGJ through Sept. 17. You can find information on the court website here. You also can contact CGJ deputy manager Britney Huelbig at CGJ@scscourt.org or 408-882-2721.
This commentary originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on March 8, 2020.
California has a unique avenue of civic engagement that not only is tremendously interesting and enlightening, it’s also fulfilling, rewarding and – not least of which – important.
The Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) is a watchdog entity that is empowered to investigate governmental agencies and officials within a county.
Wondering why our county is slow to resolve felony cases, how police respond to instances involving the mentally ill or how the VTA is governed? Those are among the subjects of recent CGJ reports. Levi’s Stadium, Valley Medical Center and the Elmwood Correctional Complex are among the many governmental agencies targeted in other recent reports.
Nearly every county in the state empanels a CGJ to serve for one year. Santa Clara has a 19-person grand jury. The CGJ does not deal with criminal or civil court trials, rendering guilt/innocence or liability/non liability verdicts. Instead, the CGJ serves as the county’s civil watchdog agency as an arm of the Superior Court, with county government staff assistance.
Any county resident can apply. Santa Clara County Superior Court is seeking applications for the 2020-2021 grand jury, whose term will begin June 18. Information can be found on the scscourt.org website. The application deadline is April 1.
The grand jury’s governmental watchdog role is especially important at a time when local media has shrunk in the Internet age. Yet, the civil grand jury is relatively little known. We recently formed a county chapter of the Civil Grand Jurors’ Association in a bid to raise that profile.
The scscourt.org website has lots of information about the CGJ. Here’s a quick overview.
From the pool of applicants, the panel will be selected at random from a subgroup of finalists. Jurors will receive training and soon will embark on investigations that will end with written reports featuring findings and recommendations. The number of investigations and subjects of investigations are up to the grand jury. Anyone can file a complaint that the grand jury will consider for an investigation. Jurors themselves can come up with areas of investigation. The grand jury has no authority to investigate agencies outside the county or non-governmental entities.
Jurors typically spend from 10 to 30 hours in a given week in meetings and investigative activities. Jurors receive a per diem of $20 per day, and are reimbursed for mileage.
Jurors bring their skills, life experiences and viewpoints to the group. Thus, a grand jury that reflects the amazing diversity of our county is best.
The watchdog function involves communitywide issues that often are unknown to the public. The grand jury investigates the operational effectiveness of county agencies, cities, and school and special districts. Elected and appointed officials, including county supervisors, the district attorney, the sheriff and city council members, all might be scrutinized. In rare cases, grand juries issue accusations of malfeasance, which can lead to an elected official being expelled from office.
Jurors get quite an education. A typical term might include tours of jails, airports, county medical facilities and water treatment plants. Jurors typically talk with county supervisors, mayors, police officials, district attorneys and many others.
Jurors do their own research, including site visits and interviews of government officials and employees. The final result will be written, published reports. Every agency targeted by a report recommendation is required to respond in writing to that recommendation.
All reports are public, found at scscourt.org. Take a look to get a better idea of the CGJ’s valuable function.
Peter Hertan, Michael Krey and Harry Oberhelman are members of the Santa Clara County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association.