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The Grand Jury

Purpose of this Section

The Constitution of the State of California requires superior courts to impanel at least one civil grand jury each year in each county. Accordingly, the Superior Courts of the State’s 58 counties appoint yearly more than 1,000 men and women to serve as civil grand jurors. The statutes require or permit civil grand juries to execute certain responsibilities in designated local governments. These activities are often referred to as the “watchdog function,” or, more formally, the “civil investigation function.” The statutes also authorize grand jurors to issue public reports of their inquiries into specified local governments. In general, the grand jury’s civil investigation function is restricted to the operations, accounts, records, and methods or systems of specified local-government agencies and services, but not policies. The institution is also authorized to initiate proceedings against local-government officials it has sufficient reason to think are guilty of willful or corrupt misconduct in office. Grand juries in California may also be impaneled for indictment purposes, but they will not be the main focus of this Web site.

No one is born fully equipped for civil grand jury service. The prudent person who becomes a civil grand juror will probably try to find a book about the institution in a library. Unfortunately, little information is available about the civil grand jury in most libraries. Not convinced? Try this: Go to your public library and search for a reference to the civil grand jury in California. If Grand Juries in California isn’t on their shelves, you might wish to inform them of its availability.

From time to time, you will find information in this section about the possible origins of the grand jury, references to what scholars have written about it, and comments about its statutory foundation. Over the years, such information has been buried in places such as history books, court cases, and masters theses and doctoral dissertations. In this section, we will, from time to time, direct your attention to some of this material.

It is also difficult to understand the California civil grand jury fully without examining its recent legal history and contemporary statutes. When citizens understand this material, they are in a better position to appreciate the achievements of civil grand juries and understand the consequences of their blunders. An even deeper understanding emerges when you learn what judges have said about the institution in appellate cases. The statutes are the bare bones of the institution; the case law reveals its human side.

On occasion you will also find analyses of investigations by civil grand juries into local-government matters. Though this commentary will reveal interesting points about civil grand juries, it accomplishes a much broader goal: to illuminate local government at work, or not at work, as the case may be.

May 1, 2008

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