Tom Achter: The anatomy of the Nevada County Grand Jury
Several times in the past, I have seen articles and ads that promoted volunteering as a member of the Nevada County Grand Jury.
As I think back, it’s easy to say that I really didn’t know much at all about grand juries except what I had seen on TV. I recall I’d also seen some limited mention in the local media about investigations and reports regarding some topic that appealed to me involving aspects of our county government. I thought it was curious that it didn’t discuss some major crime or result in some kind of indictment … instead; it addressed finances of a fire district or some concerns about homelessness in the county or some other things unrelated to “big time crime scenes.”
It certainly wasn’t the script on TV. And I can recall deciding to look into the differences of what I thought, what television portrayed and what appeared to be a new reality … maybe … sometime later … perhaps.
My “sometime later” happened about three years ago when I was alerted to a consequence of homelessness which caused an extreme fire danger here in the county. I followed the prompts in The Union and found a website (http://www.nccourt.net) chock full of reports, recent and past. These reports intricately explored many significant topics relating to what I saw as things wholly vital to the county!
Additionally, the website exposed me to resources where I found information on the history and role of grand juries of the State of California. What I learned appealed to me and I looked into it further.
I found out that the 19-member Nevada County Grand Jury is selected by the Nevada County Superior Court each year. I discovered that their primary role was oversight of taxpayer-funded and governmental operations of the county. The word “watchdog” came up repeatedly. I found they have extensive investigatory powers to interview or compel testimony and to access virtually any item or document necessary in the course of their investigation.
Further, that the grand jury operates with complete independence. This “watchdog” has teeth!
I also found that jurors are sworn to complete confidentiality of the proceedings of the grand jury, a lifelong vow! They are compelled to investigate citizen complaints, holding identities and topics to themselves. They are responsible to make transparent to the citizens information regarding the conduct of our county. I learned that their yearly reports were the only means of communication to the general public and that a strict protocol governed what was ultimately released. It is through these reports that the public can demand our local government take action to correct deficiencies.
The Nevada County Grand Jury is an effective means to alert the public to become aware and hold county elected and appointed government officials accountable.
Individuals from every walk of life have become jurors. They are team players in unified efforts, who share their unique perspective to contribute to the betterment of our unique county. Could this be you?
In the near future, other Nevada County Grand Jurors will be writing other stories of what they’ve learned. If you are looking for a noble cause and have the desire to consider volunteering, we hope these stories pique your interest to open the Nevada County Superior Court website (http://www.nccourt.net) and click on the link “Grand Jury.” You’ll find our library of past reports, information on citizen complaints, the means to send your own complaint and, of course, the means to apply to become a member of the Nevada County Grand Jury.
It’s a piece of my life I’ll never regret and I’ll never forget!
Tom Achter, who lives in Penn Valley, is foreperson of the Nevada County Grand Jury.
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