Kirk H. Nakamura, assistant presiding judge and chair of the Grand Jury Recruitment and Selection Committee, offered an invitation printed in the January 16, 2017 edition of the Orange County Register among other places to potential do-gooders who have 30-40 hours to spare each week to join the 2017-18 Grand Jury. This effort to encourage people who want to “make a difference” is certainly laudable, but the reality of what the Grand Jury does or doesn’t do tells a different story. That story needs to be told and action should follow.
Aside considering criminal indictments and investigative matters such as the recent “jailhouse snitch” issue, the Orange County Grand Jury, and every Grand Jury throughout the State of California, spends a majority of their time looking at local jurisdictions and special districts under its purview “promoting sound government” in its civil “watchdog” role. Thousands of fully burdened government employee hours are spent on the OC Grand Jury annually. This exercise is more of a tax-payer funded civics class for retired folks. The reports produced and signed off on by the presiding judge at best qualify as passing grade term paper in a community college or yellow journalism. A glance at the sources of these reports would lead a high school sophomore to scratch their head when they see that in some of the 2016 reports (for example), Wikipedia was used as a source. As that sophomore knows, Wikipedia as a valid source is a no-no.
A public agency then has 90-days to respond to the findings and recommendations contained in the report. In my personal experience spanning 25 years in Orange County local government I have never seen a report that actually unearthed some terrible wrongdoing but I can assure you many hours toiling with these guys are wasted. Totally wasted.
Perhaps the Orange County Grand Jury itself? Imagine the credibility they would have if they pursued an independent review of themselves. Interview all the same government leaders they do and ask tough questions on their function and contribution to the public good. Then a report could be submitted, hopefully with valid sources, that would include “findings and recommendations” on the value of this effort to the taxpayer.
Certainly Orange County has plenty of areas where government is not doing the right thing, be it unintentionally or intentionally. Irregularities and outright malfeasance needs to be weeded out for sure and there are many ways this happens but seldom is it the Orange County Grand Jury that discovers these wrongs, however. The Orange County Grand Jury plays an important role here in Orange County and in counties throughout the state on criminal indictments and investigations. Watchdogs groups are popular and needed but their effectiveness in Orange County would not be hurt one bit if the OC Grand Jury focused solely on their more important criminal investigation role.