MADERA – Interested in investigating complaints of misappropriation and malfeasance around Madera County? If so, the deadline to apply for the 2019-2020 grand jury is April 22.
California’s Constitution requires every county in the state maintain a grand jury to “investigate citizen-generated complaints or concerns.”
To be eligible, a person must be 18, a U.S. citizen and a Madera County resident for at least one year. Applicants also can’t have felony convictions and should, according to the county website, possess a “working knowledge” of English. Sitting elected officials are not allowed to serve.
Leanne Thomson, president of the Madera County chapter of the California Grand Jurors Association, calls the work “interesting, rewarding and sometimes very intense.”
Thomson has nearly a decade of grand juror experience, sitting most recently on the 2016-2017 Madera County panel. A retired UC Davis coordinator, she now spends much of her time recruiting and training grand jury members.
“When I first volunteered, I didn’t know what to expect,” Thomson says. “I just knew that I wanted to do something where I didn’t know anybody else. It turned out to be a perfect fit for me.”
According to court officials, about 25 to 30 people apply each year to sit on the Madera County Grand Jury, which is a branch of Superior Court.
The 19-member panel convenes as a group twice a month. Members also are assigned to various committees, which can meet more frequently, “as many as 10 to 15 hours a week if you’re on a busy committee,” Thomson says.
Last year, the panel conducted investigations focusing on operational issues at various prison facilities and complaints regarding poor water quality and service from several Bass Lake residents.
In previous years, grand jurors have looked into reports of elder abuse and animal cruelty, operational deficiencies within county maintenance districts — even the Madera Cemetery District has been the subject of recent grand jury inquiry.
A complete archive of panel reports and supervisor responses dating back to 2004 is available online.
Most grand jury’s investigations focus on civil rather than criminal cases and Thomson says the workload can be unpredictable. “It really varies from year to year.”
Madera County’s grand jury is chosen in a random drawing and seated in June, with jurors serving one-year terms, although that period can be extended to two years for some members “in order to assure a smooth transition” from one panel to the next, Thomson said.
The grand jury begin its term with a two-day, state-run training session in Visalia.
“You learn how to conduct an investigation, about what you can and can’t investigate. It’s very detailed,” Thomson says.
Most meetings take place in Madera at the Madera County Government Center. Jurors are paid $10 for every meeting and are also compensated for gas mileage.
Madera County Superior Court Judge Michael J. Jurkovich will oversee the 2019-2020 panel.
Robyn Gracey, forewoman on the current Madera County Grand Jury, is a student at the University of Phoenix. She’s served on the panel for a total of three years.
“I thought it might be a good way to get some volunteer experience to go with my degree,” Gracey says. “It hasn’t been what I was originally expecting it to be but it has been very worthwhile. It’s time-consuming and doesn’t come with many accolades, but it’s been a great way for me to get to know my community — and help make it better.”
To learn more or submit your application to serve, click here.