Lyle: Consider Serving on Orange County’s Grand Jury

If you are concerned with how well government is serving Orange County, please consider applying to serve on the Grand Jury. You will have the opportunity to make a positive impact for all of us. The Voice of OC recently published a press release from the Orange County Superior Court announcing an application deadline extension. You now have until February 1 to fill in and deliver your application to serve.

Below is the Court’s summary of what the Grand Jury does:

“The Grand Jury provides civil oversight of local governments and agencies by reviewing and evaluating county, city, and other agencies, including jails, schools, and special districts, within Orange County. At the conclusion of these investigations, the Grand Jury compiles written reports with its findings and recommendations for improvement. The Grand Jury also considers evidence for possible indictment of individuals for criminal charges and reviews issues of concern submitted by the public.”

I recently served two one-year terms on the Orange County Grand Jury and found that service to be a tremendously worthwhile and enjoyable experience. I highly recommend serving on the Grand Jury to those with the desire for public service who have the skills needed to serve effectively. Those skill include: 1) the ability to work well with others in what can sometimes be a stressful environment, 2) the ability to listen attentively and critically to criminal indictment presentations from the District Attorney’s Office on major felony cases, 3) the ability to gather information on the operation of civil governmental agencies, and 4) the ability to communicate in written reports the implications of the data collected and to formulate recommendations for improvement in the operation of these governmental agencies. Service on the Grand Jury also gave me an unparalleled opportunity to learn how the County operates and to meet many of the movers and shakers in the County.

Applicants do need to be aware that Grand Jury service is a major commitment of time, typically 25-35 hours per week, for one year. Grand Juries usually take the same holidays as the Superior Court (13 days per year as I recall) and schedule one or two weeks of vacation as well, so despite the time commitment, there is time off for R&R.

Recommendations for change from the Grand Jury in its civil reports necessarily imply deficiencies (sometimes major and sometimes minor) on the part of government to work as effectively, cost efficiently, and sometimes as ethically as it should. Such criticism is not a message that politicians and managers like to hear. This can lead some politicians and some managers leading governmental agencies to deprecate the value and impact of Grand Jury reports. However, looking at history in Orange County over just the past four years, the Grand Jury (often working with and in support of ideas brought forth from concerned citizens) has provided impetus for major positive changes for the county. To name just a few: 1) progress at last in replacing the obsolete Animal Shelter, 2) establishment of a Campaign Finance and Ethics Oversight Commission, 3) Implementation of Laura’s Law, and 4) improved video surveillance in Orange County jails.

One caution for those considering service on the Grand Jury – the District Attorney’s Office often brings to the Jury cases charging murder, attempted murder, and manslaughter. Like the boy in the movie The Sixth Sense, you will likely see dead people in photos and, in this day of video surveillance, people dying on video as well. In addition, Grand Jurors are invited to Sheriff’s Coroner Reviews of deaths of people occurring while they were being held in custody. Autopsy reports are part of the evidence presented. Because of this, Grand Jurors are invited, but not required, to observe the conduct of autopsies by the Coroner, up close and personal although from behind a glass wall. Service on the Jury will likely expose you to the darker sides of the human experience.

The two juries I served on were remarkably diverse ethnically, politically, religiously, and in about as many of the other ways we humans can differ. The one thing uniting the members of the Jury was their determination to do as good a job as possible. In this day when so many people create bubbles to live in so that they don’t have to confront different ideas, service with such a dedicated, diverse group of people can be eye-opening. I value the lasting friendships I established with people with very different political and religious beliefs. We discovered that our shared values out-weighed our differences.

I urge you to check out www.ocgrandjury.org. You will find all the information you need to complete an application to serve on the Grand Jury. You will also find an extensive collection of prior civil reports to read. Please do read some of the reports whose titles interest you and ask yourself if you would like to be a principle author or contributor on a similar report. Remember that each Jury is autonomous and decides what it wants to investigate.

Alf Lyle, served on OC Grand Jury.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org