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Listen Before You Leap : On immigration issue, a judge aims to broaden grand jury testimony

August 07, 1993

The Orange County Grand Jury drew unfavorable nationwide attention to itself in June when in calling for a three-year moratorium on immigration it pushed one of the hottest political buttons in the land.

The grand jury's misconceived foray into immigration policy proved mostly that it did not know what it was talking about. But one sure antidote for ignorance is education, and now, in taking a laudable new direction, the panel is bringing tutors to its bailiwick. It has invited leaders of the very ethnic groups that can most enlighten it on the nuances of complicated immigration issues and policy.

When the grand jury's finding first came out, the result was not made any more palatable by the composition of the panel itself, which is heavily weighted toward Anglo representation in addition to having an average age of 64.

The effect was to paint a portrait of a group woefully out of touch. Nor did the panel offer sufficient facts to support its largely intuitive conclusion that illegal immigration was at the root of a whole host of social ills. A Latino group was incensed to the point of filing a federal civil rights complaint.

But if the panel warranted criticism for jumping to conclusions, it since has demonstrated that it has the flexibility to begin learning from its own missteps. Having been stung by the outrage, Presiding Superior Court Judge Hugh Michael Brenner, who oversees the grand jury, has been endeavoring to ensure that the grand jury hears from a more diverse group. That was easy enough to do; he supplied to members of a grand jury subcommittee the names of those who had complained directly to him about the immigration report.

So far, the initiative has been greeted with praise, even if one Latino leader expressed apprehension about the inquisitorial nature of a grand jury. The initiative does appear to be well-intended, and designed to improve the learning curve. But there is work to be done on this and other grand juries, to make them more representative in the future. Here's proof for any of them that it's better to listen before leaping.

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