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Want to help make government better? Try signing up for Sacramento County grand jury

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Russell Hom, shown in 2012, is the presiding judge of the Sacramento County grand jury. The court is recruiting volunteers for the 2019-20 panel. Hom hopes to see 100 to 150 applicants for the positions – 19 members, plus 11 alternates.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Russell Hom, shown in 2012, is the presiding judge of the Sacramento County grand jury. The court is recruiting volunteers for the 2019-20 panel. Hom hopes to see 100 to 150 applicants for the positions – 19 members, plus 11 alternates. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento Superior Court is recruiting volunteers for its 2019-20 grand jury.

The panel gleaned from a cross-section of Sacramento County is charged with reviewing and investigating local governmental activities within the county, from city and county government to schools and special districts.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Russell Hom is the jury’s presiding judge. He hopes to see 100 to 150 applicants for the positions – 19 members, plus 11 alternates. The panel’s term begins July 1 and serves through June 30, 2020.

Applications are being accepted through Jan. 25, and are available at the grand jury’s website, www.sacgrandjury.org, said Becky Castaneda, grand jury coordinator. A briefing session will be held in February for qualified applicants 18 and older. Judges will later nominate candidates who are then selected by lottery in May.

“If you are someone who believes that government is accountable to the people, there is only one place. It’s really the venue where it is done by an entity that has no political agenda,” Hom said. “There is no better lesson in civics than sitting on a grand jury. You’re exposed to how decisions are made and how decision makers are held accountable. Government requires accountability – continued accountability.”

Hom said he and other judges and court leaders have sought in recent years to broaden the makeup of the body so that it better reflects today’s Sacramento County. That means reaching out to community groups, local leaders and the county’s underrepresented communities.

Hom says the goal is a body that is “inclusive and representative of the county.” He acknowledges it remains a work in progress. “We’re trying to do our best,” Hom said.

Serving on a grand jury is serious work – the 19-member body is authorized to investigate and report on government operations and public officials. It also reviews citizens’ complaints for possible investigation and works with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office to issue criminal indictments.

Grand jurors are also mandated to look into correctional facilities based in Sacramento County, from local facilities such as the Sacramento County Main Jail, Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, near Elk Grove, and the county’s juvenile hall, to state institutions including Folsom State Prison.

But the grand jury panel is different from a seated jury at a civil or criminal trial and doesn’t hear cases before a judge in a courtroom. The work it performs is confidential and it prepares a final report at the close of its year-long term.

Jurors can expect to work 30 to 35 hours a week and receive a $30 a day stipend plus parking.

The work can be challenging: “It’s not an easy job, but it is important work that has the potential to impact the community – whether funds are being properly spent. You have to work as a body of 19,” Hom said.

But, Hom added, “If your interest is government, there’s really no better place because you can do something about it.”

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