Inyo County will be watched by a new set of eyes when the 2011-12 Grand Jurors is sworn in on July 5.
The group of 11 residents commits an entire year to working on an annual report, a summary of investigations of departments and functions in the county and the cities and towns therein, brought to their attention by citizens.
The jurors’ mission statement states it “will act as the public’s ‘watchdog’ by investigating the affairs of government” and “(w)ill judiciously investigate all allegations against and misconduct by public officials.”
The jury also makes recommendations for commendations and deserved honors.
Gail Shults, the county’s jury services coordinator, said that the jury has its own post office box to accept concerns and complaints from the public. This P.O. box is accessible strictly by the jurors. “They’re the only ones with a key,” Shults said.
The jurors will take information or tips provided by county entities or its citizenry and first review them and try and determine their validity and merit. Shults said some items cannot be investigated by the jurors, for a myriad of different reasons, and must be handled by a different authority.
Then, if possible, the jury investigates on its own. The findings are published and a response time is provided.
According to state law and as noted in the annual reports, Grand Juries can:
“Inspect and audit books and records to ensure legal expenditures and accounting of public funds.
“Inquire into the conditions of prisons, jails and detention centers in Inyo County.
“Inquire into charges of willful misconduct in office by public officials or employees.
“Subpoena witnesses and documents in the course of an investigation.”
The jury’s report is not a legally binding document, but suggestions. The report also states requests for responses from departments or entities involved. For example, the Grand Jury has reported for years that the Bishop Police Department headquarters needs to be larger. The department has sought bigger accommodations, but has been stymied by financial restrictions.
The jurors are chosen much like any jury, according to Shults. She explained that the same computer that selects jurors for duty in Superior Court selects 500 random candidates for the Grand Jury. The candidates are not legally obligated to be on the jury as a court juror would be, since the commitment is daunting, Shults said.
The Grand Jury notice includes an application and explanation of the duties, and interested parties mail back the questionnaire.
Schults said the applicants are then interviewed by Superior Court judges, this year Judge Dean Stout. Then Stout conferred with Judge Brian Lamb in making the final decision.
This year’s prospective members include some returning and some new jurors. Robert Michener and William Robinson have re-applied, and new this year are Bishop residents Richard Distel, Larry Clark, Richard Buhler, Kathleen Cunningham, Terry Parks and Bruce Dishion, Big Pine resident Lloyd Wilson, Barbara Durham of Death Valley and James Cecil of Lone Pine.
The 2011-12 Grand Jury will be sworn in at noon on Tuesday, July 5 in Department 1 on the top floor of the Inyo County Superior Courthouse in Independence. The 2010-11 report is due out near the same time. Past reports can be viewed at http://www.inyocourt.ca.gov .