Grand jurors, CGJA members, CGJA Chapters, and other interested parties:
This message is intended primarily for current jurors but is shared with others as a matter of information about what CGJA is doing about the coronavirus situation.
During these difficult and challenging times, we at CGJA want to offer our support and help in any way we can to assist grand juries with the task of completing their work. We have been hearing daily from grand juries around the state with questions about several areas of concern and will try to answer some of those questions here. We do not have all the answers, of course, but want to share with you what we do know, and offer a few best-practice suggestions.
1. Can our grand jury move forward with completing our investigations and issuing our reports, even though we cannot meet? If so, how can we best accomplish that under the current circumstances?
You may have seen the March 15 Eblast message we sent to all Introductory Members (current jurors who have registered to receive our email notifications throughout their term) and current jurors who are CGJA members. We indicated that CGJA believes that jurors can meet virtually for plenary sessions, committee meetings, and to conduct interviews. We recommend that you set up a protocol for doing so that will ensure confidentiality, and to discuss this with your legal advisors before instituting this process. We have heard from several grand juries that are now meeting by teleconference or videoconference – one grand jury reported that they were able to get a free version of Webex and another reported successfully using Zoom.
We encourage you to maintain high standards for your investigations and reports. It would be easy in times like this to want to take shortcuts. You should only complete your investigations if you can do so in a complete and thorough way. Remember that all findings must be based on documented evidence. You must ensure that all of your facts are confirmed, your findings accurate, and your recommendations reasonable. Exit interviews can and should still be conducted (perhaps by teleconference) before finalizing and releasing a report.
If you won’t be able to properly finish all of your investigations, we recommend you prioritize your work. You should complete at least one investigation and report on some aspect of county government. (PC §925) You may have already taken a tour of the detention facilities in your county, but no report is required on that inquiry. (PC §919)
As to other pending investigations and reports, concentrate your efforts and limited resources on those that are nearly complete and are worth finalizing. Your grand jury can, under Penal Code section 924.4, pass on civil investigative files to the succeeding grand jury. That jury would then decide whether to investigate and report on that topic. You can read more about this in the CGJA Training Manual in Tab 5 at pages 5-6.
2. How can a new grand jury be impaneled this year with courts closing or limiting their services and receiving fewer applications for grand jury service? And if our court is unable to gather an adequate pool of jurors, will our grand jury still be discharged as scheduled?
We have heard that applications for grand jury service are down significantly compared to last year and that many courts are extending their application deadlines. Some will be asking for more carryovers than normal. While Penal Code section 904 requires a pool of 25 to 30 prospective grand jurors (29-40 in Los Angeles), the law does not prohibit impaneling if the number in the pool is lower. It also appears that the court may impanel a jury even if the number of jurors is less than the normal 19 or 11. Grand juries can operate as long as there are enough jurors to constitute a supermajority (12 in a 19-member jury and 8 in an 11-member jury), but that would be impractical and difficult under most situations.
If the court cannot seat enough jurors, or if it wants to give the current jury more time to finish its work, it might consider keeping the 2020/2021 grand jury in office past the end of the fiscal year. The California Attorney General issued an opinion in 1989 stating that a grand jury stays in existence until it is discharged or a new grand jury is impaneled. (72 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 128) Attorney general opinions do not have the effect of law, but some courts might adopt the reasoning of that opinion and allow or ask the current jury to continue long enough to finish its work, and perhaps even dispense with impaneling a jury for the next term. We believe that jurors can decline to serve past their current commitment.
We do not know how individual superior courts plan to deal with the recruitment and impaneling of grand jurors this year. We hope to hear more in the coming days and weeks, and if you have information to share with us on this, we would love to hear from you.
3. If our court is able to impanel a grand jury, will CGJA still be able to provide training?
The CGJA training program for 2020 has been fully prepared and scheduled, but we realize that things are changing rapidly and we will need to remain flexible. We will do everything possible to provide our full training services while meeting the individual needs of each grand jury.
4. Other questions: We are happy to try to answer any other specific questions you might have based on our knowledge of the law. However, we cannot act as your legal advisors, so you should also be in close contact with them, if possible. But keep in mind that your legal advisors and the presiding judges who review your reports are also dealing with reduced schedules and may find it difficult to assist the grand jury at this time.
We at CGJA would like everyone to share information with each other as to what is working for their grand jury, or challenges they might need help with. Communications at a time like this are essential.
To facilitate that, please feel free to contact us at the email address shown below. And we have set up hashtags for social media “conversations” (Go to #CGJAGrandjurors and/or #CGJAChapters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)
Take care, stay safe, and let us know how we can help.
Marsha Caranci, Chair
CGJA Training Committee