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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

A Real-World Grand Jury?

June 02, 2002

When Orange County's population was overwhelmingly white, the grand jury was dominated by whites. The 19 members who will be sworn in July 1 make up a grand jury that has 12 white men and women, but also includes two Asian Americans, two Latinos and three African Americans. In comparison, the grand jury now completing its one-year term comprises 15 whites, one Asian American and three Latinos.

The ethnic mix of the incoming group still doesn't reflect the reality of a county where whites account for just 51% of the population. This shouldn't be a simple numbers game, but a grand jury that strives to mirror the real world would benefit from different vantage points as it considers indictments and conducts investigations designed to keep local government honest and efficient.

The Orange County Superior Court, which recruits grand jury members, deserves credit for strengthening efforts to reach potential jurors in the county's fast-growing ethnic communities. The county advertised in Spanish- and Vietnamese-language newspapers, ran commercials on television stations that target ethnic groups, and sent recruitment letters to various organizations with strong ties to ethnic communities.

The grand jury, though, isn't likely to cast an exact reflection of the real population. Serving on a grand jury is the equivalent of a full-time job, but jury members are paid the less-than-grand salary of $50 a day, so it's understandable that members are more likely to be retirees with the inclination and time to serve.

The new grand jury's average age will be 62, younger than the last grand jury, which had an average age of 64. But the grand juror age is still nearly double the county's median age of about 33.

Whether weighing in on beach pollution, conducting in-depth studies of how the district attorney's office functions or proposing initiatives to improve the health and welfare of county residents, the grand jury serves an important function in a democratic society.

The county soon will begin to recruit potential members for the 2003-04 grand jury, again using a strong marketing pitch designed to resonated with members of the county's fast-growing ethnic community. But it's also important for members of the county's fast-growing minorities to accept the invitation to serve on the grand jury and other important political and social institutions.

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