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Orange County needs new grand jury members

December 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Orange County is looking for people to serve on its grand jury. Even with the high unemployment rate this year, the court says it's difficult to find new members. Vena Garrett and her colleague discuss how they're going to fill the positions they now hold. They are Orange County grand jurors, half way through their year-long commitment, as watchdogs of county government.

"I think this is the most exciting thing I've done in my career," said O.C. Grand Juror Vena Garrett.

The former teacher, paralegal and small-business owner are among the 19 chosen who are now helping recruit for next year.

"We have retired police officers, we have an attorney, a couple of CPA's, we have an engineer," said Garrett.

The grand jury is made up of Orange County residents who handle a range of tasks, from touring county facilities to evaluating government agencies to considering evidence for possible criminal indictments.

"They've run the gamut from embezzlement and securities fraud to criminal murders," explained Garrett.

The Orange County Grand Jury, going back to 1890, is a select group that works behind closed doors.

"Everything we do is secret," said Garrett.

Grand jury investigations of the past have included a look into the beating death of inmate John Chamberlin at the hands of other inmates in 2006. The grand jury found a culture of laziness among some deputies and a failure to regularly patrol. The findings led to changes at Theo Lacy Jail.

"The role of a grand juror is extremely important," said California Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez.

But recruiting is not easy. Even with such high unemployment, it is still hard to find people for this position. Officials say part of the problem is it pays only $50 a day.

"It requires someone to be there basically on a full time basis," said Judge Rodriguez.

Candidates don't have to have a college degree but the judges on the selection committee are looking for people over 18, with life experience, good communication skills and computer skills.

"It's not only the ability to process data but to be able to analyze it," said Judge Rodriguez.

A panel will choose 30 candidates. Then the final 19 are chosen randomly. The job starts in July and lasts one year.