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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Yolo County grand jury looks for next year’s members

For those who cringe at the sight of a jury duty notice, Yolo County’s grand jury is not similar.

For the following year, Yolo County is seeking new members for their grand jury, which unlike the “petite” jury, members serve for a year and volunteer their time to serve as an investigative branch of the judicial system. In Yolo County, the grand jury also serves as a criminal grand jury.

Not all states have a grand jury, but California still believes in this system, said Edwina Harper, jury services supervisor for Yolo County Superior Court.

“The grand jury is an investigatory body for your local government,” Harper said. “They take complaints from local county citizens.”

A position on the grand jury is not usually for the pay: Grand jury members receive $15 stipends per meeting, plus mileage. Members meet a couple times each month.

After serving two terms as foreperson for the Napa County Grand Jury, Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the California Grand Jury Association (CGJA) William Trautman said the grand jury experience is not for the money but for more fulfilling reasons.

“The incentive is grand jurors perform a year of public service with a real and unique chance to make their local government better,” Trautman said in an e-mail interview. “When a grand jury does an investigation, makes findings and recommendations to a particular agency, there is nothing more satisfying than to see that agency accept and carry out the recommendation.”

Yolo County’s grand jury is searching for about 19 Yolo County residents to serve as members. Current Yolo County Grand Jury Foreperson Barbara Sommer said there are a lot of retired members each year, but a younger presence would diversify the investigative body. To apply, applicants must be over 18 years old.

“[As a member,] I learned a tremendous amount about county government,” Sommer said, who runs the monthly meetings as foreperson. “[The grand jury] is a real cross section of the community. There are people with different backgrounds.”

The CGJA serves as the backbone for grand juries in California counties. Since counties’ grand juries are self-run with little support from within county judicial systems, the CGJA steps in to train and provide resources to members.

“Since most counties provide only limited training, CGJA puts on concentrated training seminars involving 12 hours of intensive work in grand jury essentials, grand jury history, local government, investigations, interviewing and final report writing,” Trautman said. “Each year, CGJA trains approximately 900 incoming jurors throughout California.”

Sommer said students who have lived in Yolo County for at least a year should consider applying – she said grand jury service looks good on a resume. The grand jury considers that members have work, family and school obligations and plans meetings accordingly.

The application process is more of a lottery, Sommer said. After submitting an application and a quick interview with a superior court judge, draws are made for the jury and for back-up members, should anyone drop out during their year of service. If chosen, applicants become sworn into the grand jury by the end of June.

The deadline to apply is Apr. 15. Other criteria for membership and the grand jury application can be found on Yolo County’s grand jury web site at yolocounty.org/Index.aspx?page=786.

SASHA LEKACH can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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