The San Benito County Civil Grand Jury acts as the citizens' watchdog. It is described as a completely independent body that is separate from the county agencies and officials that it is charged to investigate. However, its budget is controlled by the county. Legally, the grand jury has access to public officials and employees. Grand jury members, by law, have open access to government records and information related to the investigations ongoing.
At the conclusion of its investigations, the Grand Jury produces written reports identifying problems and making recommendations to improve the way our county government agencies operate and respond to their communities. California civil grand juries most typically spend the majority of their time investigating and reporting on local government operations as opposed to criminal matters. Before public release, reports are reviewed by the presiding judge and county counsel to ensure that the contents do not include names of individuals and that the jury has functioned within its legal jurisdiction. Neither the judge nor counsel may otherwise alter the content of the reports.
The California Grand Jury Association (CGJA) states in its website that the Penal Code requires every year that the Grand Jury:
- Inquire into the condition and management of the detention facilities within the County
- Investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of county and other local public agencies, officers, departments or functions
- Inquire into the willful or corrupt misconduct in office of public officers, and,
- Submit a final report of its Findings and Recommendations no later than the end of its term to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court.
California Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal "case law" clarify the powers and duties of the grand jury. The legislature has provided legal assistance for each county grand jury to help interpret the law. These can include:
- A judge of the Superior Court
- The District Attorney
- The County Counsel
- The state Attorney General (under certain circumstances).
The jury gets training either by experienced jurors or by contracting with the CGJA or both. Ideally, jurors who have served one term stay on to complete a second term and so serve as mentors for newcomers. Jurors can serve two consecutive terms but can return after stepping out for a term.
Once convened, the jury reviews complaints submitted by residents and, in addition, builds a preliminary list of other possible investigations to add to those mandated each year (e.g., Juvenile Hall). Beyond those required, the jury exercises its judgment, deciding which optional topics to pursue.
When a Grand Jury has completed a report, it requires the specific local governmental entity to answer the “Findings and Recommendations.” Officials or agency heads are given 60 days and governing bodies are given 90 days to answer the Grand Jury in writing. In addition to reports that spotlight problem areas, it is not uncommon for reports to highlight the good work agencies perform in service to their communities.
Over the past few years, San Benito Grand Jury members have requested that the county include the responses online with the grand jury reports themselves. However, the county website currently does include this final response.
Members of the community will be given the opportunity to join San Benito County Grand Jury over the next few months.
To learn more about this civic-minded role in our community, visit California Courts, a website for Judicial Council of California: http://www.courts.ca.gov/civilgrandjury.htm
The San Benito County Grand Jury page on the county website provides more information. It states, “The Grand Jurors are selected by lot after a screening process by the Court at the beginning of the County’s fiscal year (July 1). Anyone interested in becoming a Grand Juror may submit an application to the Jury Commissioner at the above address. “
Applications may be sent to:
Grand Jury Applications
P.O. Box 1624, Hollister CA.
Calls or questions can be directed to the Superior Court of California San Benito County at (831) 636-4057.