Friday, July 13, 2001
County Task Force Recommends Return to Single Grand Jury System
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A county panel yesterday called for the return of a single grand jury, just a year after the dual civil/criminal system was instituted.
“We feel it is more economic and efficient to return to a single grand jury system,” Grand Jury Task Force Chair and former grand juror Jaclyn Tilley Hill said.
The report, prepared by a Citizens’ Efficiency and Economy Commission task force, recommended the return after numerous interviews with Los Angeles Superior Court judges, the pubic defender, county counsel, deputy district attorneys, and other parties involved with the grand jury.
Previously, the grand jury was a single body, sitting for a year, with power to hand up criminal indictments and launch non-criminal probes into government operations. Critics complained that the panel, selected randomly from a pool of nominees submitted by judges, had an insufficient representation of Latinos for a body that was indicting so many Latino criminal defendants.
A new 23-member regular, or civil, grand jury was empanelled July 1. It will sit for a year.
Implemented by then-Presiding Judge Victor Chavez, the dual system provides that criminal grand juries, like trial juries, are called from voter and driver registration lists, which generates a random pool of jurors. Criminal grand jurors serve for one month.
While the report acknowledges that the current bifurcated system “appears to have adequately addressed” the diversity issue, the report concludes that downside considerations, including a short amount of time in which to investigate criminal matters, and a lack of “improved grand jury oversight report,” “increased costs” and “increased potential problems that could develop within the grand jury itself outweigh the benefits”
In addition to the recommendation for a single grand jury, the report also makes 19 other recommendations which are aimed at improving the economy and efficiency of either the unified or bifurcated grand jury.
Among the recommendations was a motion that the grand jury could “become increasingly effective” in the recommendation process by taking into account potential impacts such as costs and personnel when making its suggestions.
Creating a historical, electronic, and searchable file which would allow incoming grand juries to review the work of past panels and continuing outreach efforts to inform the public of grand jury services were also among the report’s recommendations.
District Attorney Steve Cooley commended the task force’s report in a letter, saying the “dual system is not adequate to handle lengthy criminal probes,” referring to the Belmont Learning Center and Rampart scandals.
Cooley did note that the Superior Court can extend the time jurors are required to serve on an as-needed basis.
The court recently extended the juror service period from 30 to 60 days for a criminal grand jury investigation, he said.
Commission Chairman and former District Attorney Robert Philibosian agreed with Cooley’s sentiments.
“From my own experience presenting cases to the grand jury, I can tell you there are times when two months are not adequate,” Philibosian said.
The report is expected to be officially released to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sometime next week, a commission spokesman said.
A copy of the report will also be sent to the courts for informational purposes, Commission Executive Director Bruce Staniforth said. The commission has no power over the courts.
Superior Court jury services administrator Gloria Gomez and Executive Officer/Clerk John Clarke were unavailable for comment.
In other action before the commission, the county’s Department of Health Services took center stage in a presentation by Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen, who characterized the county as being “okay,” but reiterated that the department’s relatively balanced current budget will turn into an $800 million deficit beginning in 2003-04 as a federal waiver program is phased out.
For a five-year period ending last year, the county has been participating in the 1115 Waiver Medicaid Demonstration Project, which funnels federal funds into the Health Department in return for decreasing inpatient expenditures and increasing outpatient spending.
“The idea behind it is to restructure the county system and treat people in the least costly environment,” Janssen said. “That means getting people out of hospitals.”
Last year, at the conclusion of the five year period, the federal government decided not to continue the program and chose to decrease the amount of funds over a second five year period beginning 2000-01.
During the phase-out, the waiver still requires the county maintain 3 million outpatient visits a year while funds dwindle after the third year from $246 million a year to $86 million in the last year, leaving Health Services scrambling to make the quota without incoming funds.
The county is currently looking to trim 20 percent from the Health Services budget in order to compensate for reduced federal funding, Janssen said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company