May 10, 2011 — The Lassen County Grand Jury is a judicial body of 19 citizens impaneled to act as a community “watchdog.” The rules governing the makeup, organization, powers and duties of grand juries in California are found in the California Penal Code §888-939. The rules to be on the grand jury can be found at lassencourt.ca.gov.
Lassen Union High School Board member Skip Jones resigned Wednesday, May 4 from the Lassen County Grand Jury in a preemptive action before a noon LUHSD meeting held to discuss in part the conflict of interest of Jones serving on the high school board and grand jury simultaneously.
While we are pleased Jones resigned from the jury, we think he cannot serve on the grand jury and a school board. We also don’t think the Lassen Court system did its job in vetting Jones because the job description for a juror clearly states in Penal Code §893 a person is not competent to act as a grand juror if any of the following apply: The person is serving as an elected public officer. Jones was a Johnstonville School board member at the time he was asked to serve on the grand jury. Jones noted that on his grand jury application.
Jones claims he recused himself from any reviews or complaints concerning high school business. Yet, he sat with the jury when it questioned LUHSD Board President Chuck Spence. It was not necessary or appropriate for Jones to be at the interview and we commend Spence’s action to quickly stop answering questions and seek the district’s legal counsel for clarification.
There are more questions than answers to the reasons why Jones chose to be involved in the grand jury’s investigations of the high school. Something doesn’t click. And at a time when schools are struggling to make payroll, keep programs open and strengthen morale, the time wasted by Jones’ poor choices does not bode well. The mood at the Wednesday lunchtime meeting seemed to be one of distrust. It appears the board is now split 4 to 1 and Jones’ apparent conflict of interest was the cause of the haranguing.
The whole thing has left us renewing our resolve to be a better watchdog of what is happening at the high school district and within the grand jury. We will look to see if any other jurors hold elected office and expect those people will also resign one post or the other.
We must not forget the primary function of a civil grand jury is to oversee all aspects of the legislative and administrative departments that make up county, city and special district governments. It has the power to investigate them to ensure they are efficient, honest, fair and dedicated to serving the public and individual citizens. The jury is an arm of the court and has subpoena powers.
By law, grand jurors may not disclose the evidence obtained in their investigations or reveal the names of complainants or witnesses. Similarly, witnesses are prohibited from disclosing any proceedings of the jury.
There’s something rotten in Lassen County.
|< Prev||Next >|