Features

Q&A: Roxy Montana opens up about serving on San Benito County Civil Grand Jury

She discusses their responsibility, investigations and membership.

Article courtesy of Mission Village Voice

 

MVV had a “grand” meet up with Roxy Montana, the current Foreman of the San Benito County Civil Grand Jury, who has served on the Grand Jury for six terms since 2001. Read about how these 19 jurors represent you to protect the public interest. If you think you’ve got what it takes to be a great grand juror, reach out to Roxy!

How many people are on the SBC Civil Grand Jury?

San Benito County must impanel 19 jurors to begin each fiscal term – July 1 to June 30. Once impaneled, we can lose a few due to time constraints or inability to meet at the time the plenary group chooses, but we must maintain a quorum.

How do you find jurors?

By hosting periodic open houses, usually on a Saturday morning 10 a.m.-1 p.m., inviting the public to come learn and ask questions. I explain in detail what the Grand Jury is, what it does and what it does not do, and offer reading materials. Jurors may be returnees who have served on an earlier term of the Civil Grand Jury. We have had several spouses join together. Because of the high level of confidentiality, jurors absolutely may not discuss the business of the grand jury with non-members.

What are the careers and the lifestyles of the current Civil Grand Jury?

A broad spectrum of careers is represented from MD, PhD, executives, business, firefighting, law enforcement, ranching, mental health/nonprofits, education, technology, human resources and legal fields. Retirees and non-commuters are often most available to devote the time needed for a successful experience. The time commitment makes it demanding for students.

You have committees?

We have five working committees and also ad hoc committees specific to issues. Each has a chairperson and four or five jurors with a focus at separately scheduled meetings. Any juror may attend any meeting of any committee at any time.

We have the Law and Justice Committee, the Health, Education, and Welfare Committee, the City Committee which includes Hollister and San Juan Bautista, a County Committee, and a Special Districts Committee, which includes water districts, airports, etc.

Anyone can review your findings and recommendations?

Yes, I enthusiastically invite the public to visit archived grand jury reports and responses at:

https://www.sanbenito.courts.ca.gov/general-information/jury-service/grand-jury

What does “look into” mean?

Penal codes instruct grand juries to at least “look into” issues of the “local prisons or jails.” The San Benito County Civil Grand Jury does an annual inspection of our county jail and often inspects the juvenile hall facility.

We may go to locations to individually interview multiple employees of a department or to inspect safety issues. It might be because their department is cramped and may need more space, or it could be that they’ve just moved into a new facility.

Do you respond to complaints?

Yes, we do! Any citizen or local public employee can print a complaint form available in English and Spanish found on the Superior Court website. It’s a highly confidential process and completed forms must be mailed to our private post office box, to which only we have the key. The complaints don’t go through the court. If it involves criminal activity, we then refer those to the District Attorney’s office.  All complaints are opened and read at the plenary meetings, and the grand jury decides if they fall into our jurisdiction. This is done by a super-majority vote with considerations to time and scope. If voted to go ahead with an investigation, an individual committee may look into them procedurally by scheduling appointments with the complainant and the department(s) involved.

Investigations are complaint driven as well as self-initiated?

If it’s self-initiated, it means that it may be time to do a review on a department that hasn’t been visited in a while or if there’s a rumble of curiosity with the public. Anybody, including jurors and elected officials, can go on to social media and read about what the public complains about. What generates general public interest may influence the grand jury to seek answers on their behalf.

Who do you report to as a Grand Jury?

The grand jury stands for the “We, THE People” of the community who pay taxes to fund and support the officials and departments of the city and county. We want our findings and recommendations to ultimately reach the public who we stand to serve, for they are the voters who decide to keep or lose those officials who manage the county, cities, school boards and the staff therein. Our annual Consolidated Final Report goes to the Board of Supervisors and other department heads that we interview, inspect, and investigate. We must have findings and also co-relating recommendations for each report in order to promote good government for all.

What happens if you don’t get 19 jurors?

The county doesn’t get a Grand Jury.

What happens when you don’t get a Grand Jury?

My associates at the California Grand Juror’s Association tell me there are counties who have had no Grand Jury for the past year or two, especially since Covid. They struggle to get back a foothold of interested and resolute jurors. This has even happened in our county in the past.

So, you’re never really in a courtroom?

We avoid courtrooms (laughing) and people who have been processed as criminals through them!

We are looking for people who are open-minded to learning about the operations of the city and county because if you come in pre-conceived, you’d be surprised.

That must be hard to find?

It can be. However, I think it’s how the meetings are managed. I would also say that while we all have our own opinions, we are adult enough to be able to put those opinions aside and look at any issue from an open perspective. There’s respectful discussion but no arguments or talking over others. We are civil!

How do you vet potential jurors?

The presiding judge does the initial individual interviews, and the Foreman has everything to do with working with and managing the jurors and guiding committees. I’ve discovered when it’s just not a good fit, especially for someone who has a personal agenda or ax to grind.

And the current Grand Jury?

We’re blessed with a socially mature team with outstanding life experiences and temperaments. With rare exception, they are dedicated to showing up consistently with a servant’s heart to work on behalf of the community.

Grand Jurors 2021-2022

Jae Eade

John Eade

John Ferreira

Natalya Gallion

Michelle Gutierrez, Correspondence

Patti Knoblich-Gonzalez

Dennis Lawn

John Lemos

Bob Marden, Pro Tem

Raul Sanchez

Dr. Parveen Sharma

Laurie Serpa Sabin

Stacie McGrady, Secretary

Shiven Singh, I.T.

Roxy Montana, Foreman

Bill Healy, Treasurer

Dave Busch

Cherie Toll

To learn more “About the Grand Jury,” visit https://www.cosb.us/departments/grand-jury/about-the-grand-jury

BenitoLink Staff