Friday, October 19, 2001
New County Grand Juror, Eight Alternates Take Oath to Fill Vacancies
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles County’s civil grand jury, shrunken by departures since panelists were named in June, returned to full strength yesterday with the drawing of one new grand juror and eight alternates.
Five departures after the 23-member panel was sworn and all four of the original alternates were absorbed left one vacancy and a need for more alternates.
Yesterday’s selections came from the original pool of 40 names presented to the Superior Court earlier this year. Given the rapid rate at which grand jurors have left, officials opted to name each of the remaining pool members as alternates.
Court spokesman Kyle Christopherson said two of the people drawn in June were postal workers who mistakenly believed the policy of the U.S. Postal Service to pay salary to employees called for jury duty applied to service on the grand jury, which sits for an entire year. They left when they learned of their misunderstanding.
Others left for health reasons or to care for loved ones.
The drawing to complete the 2001-2002 grand jury, less than four months after the panel took office, came as court officials were vigorously recruiting applicants for next year’s grand jury.
“This is by far the biggest recruiting effort we have ever made,” Judge David Wesley, chairman of the court’s grand jury committee, said.
The committee is taking its appeal for applicants to the Alhambra courthouse today, where officials will be making a particular bid to get Asians, Latinos and other ethnic groups to apply.
The court last year came under fire for a dearth of Latinos on the grand jury, which at that time indicted criminal suspects.
The body since has been divided in two, with members of a criminal grand jury selected at random through the same system that identifies trial jurors and, arguably, reflects more accurately the ethnic make-up of the county. Members generally serve 30 or 60 days, but can be held longer if needed on a particular investigation, Wesley said.
The civil grand jury, which does not conduct criminal investigations or hand up indictments, is made up entirely of people who volunteer to participate by application or by nomination by the Superior Court judges. Members serve as a county watchdog, probing government programs and agencies.
Another county watchdog panel, the Economy and Efficiency Commission, has called for eliminating the new dual grand jury system, but the court has so far not moved to do so.
Court Juror Services Director Gloria Gomez said civil grand jury applicants do not sign an agreement to stay on the panel for the whole year. But, she added, “we tell them over and over again that we need them for a full year.”
The Superior Court has held supplemental grand jury drawings before, but this was the first time in recent years that a new drawing was needed so soon after the grand jury was empanelled.
“It has not been that uncommon recently,” Gomez said. “There are illnesses or something will come up and they need to be replaced.”
John L. Lewis, chairman of this year’s civil grand jury, said the departures did not interrupt the panel’s work.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Lewis said. “We lost two before we were even sworn in, so the alternates moved up. Then we lost another alternate.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company