Sacramento County grand jury seeks applicants to provide needed oversight

Over the years, a panel of 19 Sacramento County residents has investigated the county’s Child Protective Services agency three times, peered into the challenges facing the Delta town of Isleton and helped uncover corruption inside Sacramento’s library system.

The group has toured area prisons, studied officer-involved shootings and investigated questionable activities inside school districts.

Now, the Sacramento County grand jury is seeking new applicants to serve a yearlong term that participants say is short on financial rewards but an important method of guaranteeing oversight on public bodies.

“It’s a very rewarding challenge to get on the grand jury and to be able to look at the inner workings of a lot of agencies,” said Don Prange, a 76-year-old veteran of seven of the last 10 grand juries.

Prange, who has served as foreman for five of those years, said the panel has helped expose widespread problems and wrongdoing, and issued more than 250 subpoenas during his time to help investigate agencies.

A former Ohio police chief, Prange said he became interested in serving after seeing a story about grand jury recruitment in The Bee and deciding he needed a challenge other than playing golf and volunteering at Senior Gleaners Inc.

He is now in his final year serving on the panel, which pays grand jurors $30 a day plus mileage, and says he has met citizens of all ages and interests on the grand jury.

Jurors selected for the panel serve for a one-year period that begins July 1 and work 15 to 20 hours a week. The panel is advised by a Sacramento Superior Court judge and has authority to investigate public bodies and officials, as well as to investigate tips from the public.

The grand jury has the authority to issue criminal indictments in coordination with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, although most of its activities result in an annual report that outlines its findings.

Some of the grand jury investigations have resulted in scathing reports about agencies such as CPS or the library system, while others have produced recommendations for improvement at schools districts or other entities that typically get little oversight.

“The Library investigation (in connection with the D.A.’s Office) resulted in the Library Director resigning, millions of dollars being defrauded uncovered, millions of dollars in overdue fines being uncovered and (three) people being sent to prison,” grand jury coordinator Becky Casteneda wrote in an email.

To serve, candidates must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of the county and be at least 18. Citizens currently serving on a trial jury or who have been discharged from a grand jury in the past year are not eligible.

Judges may nominate candidates to serve, or interested individuals can apply by mail by sending a letter of interest to Sacramento County Grand Jury, 720 Ninth St., Room 611, Sacramento CA 95814.

The letter should be mailed by Feb. 2.

Potential candidates must undergo a criminal background check and file a statement of economic interest. More application information and a questionnaire to be returned is available at www.sacgrandjury.org.

Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.