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Criticism of County Grand Jury Could Discourage Applicants

July 11, 1993

* As my attorney friend told me when I was selected for the 1988-89 Orange County Grand Jury, "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it." This holds true as last year's jury handed the torch to the new one. But I'm troubled over what legacy is being passed on and I think other concerned citizens should be too.

Because of the furor created by the release of the report calling for a three-year ban on immigration, should the new panel now shy away from controversial issues? That's the underlying message being given here as the messenger's credibility is under attack in the media.

Instead of opening more doors for community participation, this shrill criticism of the historic grand jury process could instead have a chilling effect on future applicants. Recruitment of jury volunteers has never been easy and now it could become that much more difficult.

Every year in January, a desperate call goes out for dedicated volunteers for the grand jury. Not enough people answer when the only perk is free parking in Santa Ana and the other "incentives" are token pay, long hours in a five-day week and no vacations.

Any wonder that grand juries rarely have a balanced makeup representing a cross-section of the community? So now the critics are pointing to the age factor and ethnic makeup of the jury as the cause of what they perceive as unfair treatment.

Fortunately, there are many solutions to the problem, but most of them aren't cheap and times are tough. It has been suggested time and again that more Orange County employers hold jobs open and continue to pay employees who opt for public service for a year. School district employees could choose to spend their sabbaticals scrutinizing local government and the criminal justice system.

Less costly would be internships for public administration and political science majors as well as law students. Possibly, academic credit could be earned. In addition to this type of on-the-job training, there could be more subsidization of wives by husbands or vice versa. An obvious answer would be to raise the $25-per-diem juror pay. A separate jury for criminal and civil matters has caught attention up and down the state. However, culling prospective members from Department of Motor Vehicles lists doesn't equate because you don't need a driver's license to take the crash course in ethics, law, economics, business and politics that is the unique jury experience.



* Just as politically correct diversity is destroying America's colleges and universities, it now threatens the integrity of future Orange County grand juries (Editorial, "In Grand Juries, Diversity Is No Frill," July 5).

According to The Times, "Grand juries with members of all ages and ethnic backgrounds would better serve the county." Not surprisingly, not a shred of evidence was presented to support this thesis, and for good reason. No scientific study that conforms to accepted tenets of research design has ever established a cause-effect relationship between age or ethnicity and the effectiveness of public servants.

That the average age of grand jurors exceeds 60 and that most are Anglo results from the inadequate juror compensation of $25 a day plus mileage. (Board members of county water districts annually soak the public for thousands of dollars in pay.) A grand jury representative of Orange County's population would be selected if jurors were compensated adequately, a condition easily attained.

Effective grand juries result from selecting competent citizens to serve. Competency. This single criterion should be paramount in selecting grand jurors and Presidents--not age, not race, not gender, not ethnicity, nor any other factor unrelated to effective public service.



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