Coronavirus Guidelines

This page compiles all of our communications concerning how grand juries, superior courts, juries' legal advisors, our members and chapters can deal with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. CGJA has previously sent out this information in the form of Eblasts or letters to our members, impaneled jurors, legal advisors, presiding judges, court executive officers, and other interested parties. They are listed here in reverse chronological order (newest at the top). Just click the title below to access each one separately or you can simply scroll down.

April 8  -  Coronavirus Acknowledgement (Marin County)

This is a sample acknowledgement shared by the Marin County Grand Jury which they plan to include in each repor. It addresses the possibility that agencies could encounter delays in providing their responses to Findings and Recommendations this year.

April 8  -  Using Zoom

Provides guidance for impaneled juries who are using Zoom to conduct meetings.

April 6  -  Grand Jury Impanelment

This letter, sent to presiding judges, supervising judges, and court executive officers, outlines options for impaneling the 2020-21 grand juries.

March 21  -  Completing the 2019-2020 Grand Jury Term

The Eblast sent to impaneled jurors answers questions CGJA has received concerning the coronavirus impacts on the current juries as they near the end of their current terms.

March 15  -  Conducting Virtual Meetings

With social distancing rules in place, this Eblast provides CGJA guidance on conducting grand jury business using electronic means.


Coronavirus Acknowledgement to Attach to Grand Jury Reports

This statement was shared with CGJA by the Marin County Grand Jury. It is an example of a way to acknowledge in a grand jury report the difficulty entities might have this year responding to those reports.

While the grand jury has no authority to waive the statutory requirement to respond, grand juries may want to recognize that preparing responses could be a burden on local government resources at this time. Juries might also consider issuing only a few recommendations in each report – those that are truly reasonable and doable – and extending the suggested timeline for implementation of the recommended corrective action.

_________________________________

The 2019-2020 Marin County Civil Grand Jury is issuing its reports during the unprecedented conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are well-aware that the county is in crisis and that critical public health concerns, operational difficulties and financial challenges throughout the county have a greater claim to government attention right now than the important but less urgent issues addressed by this Grand Jury.

Agencies required to respond to our reports generally have no more than 90 days to issue a response, according to the California Penal Code. It is not within our power to waive or extend these deadlines and, to our knowledge, neither the Chief Justice nor the Governor has yet done so. But we recognize that this deadline is likely to be burdensome given current conditions.

Whether the deadlines are extended or not, it is our hope and expectation that Marin's governmental agencies will eventually be able to return to normal operations and address the issues raised by the Grand Jury's reports. In the meantime, however, public health and safety issues are of paramount importance and other matters will need to wait. 

We are confident that, in due course, Marin will come through this crisis as strong as ever.

April 8, 2020

Return to top


Using Zoom

This message is intended primarily for current jurors, but is shared with other interested parties to share what CGJA is doing to provide guidance on how grand juries can deal with the challenges of the current pandemic. 

In an effort to keep you updated on how the coronavirus situation affects grand juries, we are sending these messages out more frequently than normal. If there is a topic you would like to hear more about, please let us know.

We have heard that many grand juries are using ZOOM Video to conduct their business. We believe that a video or teleconference approach can be effective for conducting plenary or committee meetings and interviews, as long as security precautions are taken. But we highly recommend that you consult with your legal advisor before proceeding.

You may have read that ZOOM has had some security issues, especially with unwanted visitors joining conferences and taking over screens, so we want to share some of the information we have collected on this topic.

ZOOM was intended to be a business platform. When social distancing directives caused more people to use it widely, its number of users went from 10M to 200M overnight, and the security in place was not sufficient. The ZOOM staff has already taken many steps to remedy this problem.

ZOOM could be an effective and easy way for your grand jury to conduct its business. If you are currently using it or considering doing so, there are some valuable guidelines at this link to ensure that you can have secure meetings:

 https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/03/20/keep-uninvited-guests-out-of-your-zoom-event/

In the meantime, here is a summary of how to conduct safe and secure meetings using ZOOM:

Do not inadvertently make meetings open to the public. In ZOOM, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password to enter the meeting or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.

Do not share a link to a videoconference on a publicly available social media post. Provide the link and password directly to specific people.

Change screen sharing (in Options) to "Host Only" in order to manage screen sharing.

Ensure users are using the updated version of the ZOOM remote access/meeting applications. ZOOM updated its software in January 2020. The security portion of the update added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.

Lastly, be sure that your jury’s procedures for working electronically address adequate requirements for security measures and have those procedures reviewed by your legal advisor.

Marsha Caranci, Chair
CGJA Training Committee
cgjatraining@cgja.org

Lou Panetta, Chair
CGJA Technology Committee

April 8, 2020

Return to top


Grand Jury Impanelment and COVID-19

CGJA formed a Pandemic Response Coordination Workgroup on March 30, 2020. One of its first tasks was to develop approaches for superior courts to consider regarding the impaneling of the next grand jury while social distancing directives are in place. 

The following communication was shared through electronic networking with superior court judges and executive officers on April 6:

____________________________________

Dear Presiding Judges, Grand Jury Supervising Judges, and Court Executive Officers,

The California Grand Jurors’ Association (CGJA) is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose mission is to support the California grand jury system. We have been providing training to grand juries for 20 years, presently serving 54 of our state’s 58 counties. We also conduct annual workshops for the grand juries’ legal advisors.

During the past two weeks, CGJA has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from superior courts and county counsel related to the difficulties the courts are facing in recruiting applicants for the civil grand jury’s upcoming term and how the jury would be able to function once impaneled. We have also heard from current jurors concerned about how they will be able to complete this year’s work. Many are asking for our suggestions for how to address these challenges.

With regard to impanelment of the next jury, we have identified these options for the superior court to consider:

1. Impanel as usual. Some courts, particularly those that began recruitment efforts early in the calendar year, might have enough volunteers and holdovers to seat a new jury. Other courts might be able to fill the grand jury pool through summoning.

A potential barrier would be if the limitations imposed by the current state of emergency continue into July and the pool members could not be present for the random drawing, be sworn and receive the judge’s charge, meet each other, or be trained. The jury would need to conduct plenary meetings, committee meetings, and interviews electronically.

This option does not address the need for the current jury to finish their work, although many are attempting to do so through teleconferences or videoconferencing.

2. Extend the current jury’s term for six months pursuant to Penal Code §905.5(b), which allows a grand jury to transition from a fiscal year term to a calendar year term upon action by the board of supervisors. The current jury would remain in existence until approximately December 31, 2020.

This would give the courts another six months to see how the situation plays out and would allow additional time for the current transition jury to complete its work. If the jury completes its work prior to December 31, it could be discharged early. The next jury could have a one-year term, from about January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021, or the court could ask the board of supervisors to transition the jury back to a fiscal year term, with the second transition jury having an 18-month term ending approximately June 30, 2022.

Consideration would need to be given to possible budgetary difficulties resulting from divorcing the grand jury year from the county budget fiscal year.

3. Delay the impaneling of the next grand jury and extend the current jury’s term until the situation improves enough that the grand jury pool can be filled. There is no specific statutory date by which the next jury must be impaneled. (See PC §904) However, at some time during the 2020/2021 fiscal year, the court will need to impanel a grand jury per Article 1, §23 of the California Constitution. The current jury term could be extended as needed, or it could be discharged, leaving a gap between this jury and the next (see option 4).

4. Discharge the current grand jury by June 30, 2020, but delay the impaneling of the next grand jury until no later than June 30, 2021, to comply with Article 1, §23 of the California Constitution.

A downside of both options 3 and 4 is that a grand jury typically needs the full twelve-month term to complete its work, so a jury impaneled late could be at a disadvantage.

 

Please let us know if your court intends to adopt any of these options or has a different approach in mind. You may send your comments to Karen Jahr at the email address shown below.

 

Karen Jahr, Shasta County Counsel (ret.)
Chair, CGJA Legal and Legislative Resources Committee
Co-Chair, CGJA Pandemic Response Coordination Workgroup
Karen.Jahr@sbcglobal.net

April 6, 2020

Return to top


Completing the 2019-2020 Grand Jury Term

During these difficult and challenging times, we at CGJA want to offer our support and help in any way we can to assist grand juries with the task of completing their work. We have been hearing daily from grand juries around the state with questions about several areas of concern and will try to answer some of those questions here. We do not have all the answers, of course, but want to share with you what we do know, and offer a few best-practice suggestions.

 
  1. Can our grand jury move forward with completing our investigations and issuing our reports, even though we cannot meet? If so, how can we best accomplish that under the current circumstances?

You may have seen the March 15 Eblast message we sent to all Introductory Members (current jurors who have registered to receive our email notifications throughout their term) and current jurors who are CGJA members. We indicated that CGJA believes that jurors can meet virtually for plenary sessions, committee meetings, and to conduct interviews. We recommend that you set up a protocol for doing so that will ensure confidentiality, and to discuss this with your legal advisors before instituting this process. We have heard from several grand juries that are now meeting by teleconference or videoconference – one grand jury reported that they were able to get a free version of Webex and another reported successfully using Zoom (paid version for extended support). 

We encourage you to maintain high standards for your investigations and reports. It would be easy in times like this to want to take shortcuts. You should only complete your investigations if you can do so in a complete and thorough way. Remember that all findings must be based on documented evidence. You must ensure that all of your facts are confirmed, your findings accurate, and your recommendations reasonable. Exit interviews can and should still be conducted (perhaps by teleconference) before finalizing and releasing a report.

If you won’t be able to properly finish all of your investigations, we recommend you prioritize your work. You should complete at least one investigation and report on some aspect of county government. (PC §925) You may have already taken a tour of the detention facilities in your county, but no report is required on that inquiry. (PC §919)

As to other pending investigations and reports, concentrate your efforts and limited resources on those that are nearly complete and are worth finalizing. Your grand jury can, under Penal Code section 924.4, pass on civil investigative files to the succeeding grand jury. That jury would then decide whether to investigate and report on that topic. You can read more about this in the CGJA Training Manual in Tab 5 at pages 5-6.

  1. How can a new grand jury be impaneled this year with courts closing or limiting their services and receiving fewer applications for grand jury service? And if our court is unable to gather an adequate pool of jurors, will our grand jury still be discharged as scheduled?

We have heard that applications for grand jury service are down significantly compared to last year and that many courts are extending their application deadlines. Some will be asking for more carryovers than normal. While Penal Code section 904 requires a pool of 25 to 30 prospective grand jurors (29-40 in Los Angeles), the law does not prohibit impaneling if the number in the pool is lower. It also appears that the court may impanel a jury even if the number of jurors is less than the normal 19 or 11. Grand juries can operate as long as there are enough jurors to constitute a supermajority (12 in a 19-member jury and 8 in an 11-member jury), but that would be impractical and difficult under most situations.

If the court cannot seat enough jurors, or if it wants to give the current jury more time to finish its work, it might consider keeping the 2019/2020 grand jury in office past the end of the fiscal year. The California Attorney General issued an opinion in 1989 stating that a grand jury stays in existence until it is discharged or a new grand jury is impaneled. (72 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 128) Attorney general opinions do not have the effect of law, but some courts might adopt the reasoning of that opinion and allow or ask the current jury to continue long enough to finish its work, and perhaps even dispense with impaneling a jury for the next term. We believe that jurors can decline to serve past their current commitment.

We do not know how individual superior courts plan to deal with the recruitment and impaneling of grand jurors this year. We hope to hear more in the coming days and weeks, and if you have information to share with us on this, we would love to hear from you.

  1. If our court is able to impanel a grand jury, will CGJA still be able to provide training?

The CGJA training program for 2020 has been fully prepared and scheduled, but we realize that things are changing rapidly and we will need to remain flexible. We will do everything possible to provide our full training services while meeting the individual needs of each grand jury.  

  1. Other questions:

We are happy to try to answer any other specific questions you might have based on our knowledge of the law. However, we cannot act as your legal advisors, so you should also be in close contact with them, if possible. But keep in mind that your legal advisors and the presiding judges who review your reports are also dealing with reduced schedules and may find it difficult to assist the grand jury at this time.

We at CGJA would like everyone to share information with each other as to what is working for their grand jury, or challenges they might need help with. Communications at a time like this are essential.

To facilitate that, please feel free to contact us at the email address shown below. And we have set up hashtags for social media “conversations” (Go to #CGJAGrandjurors and/or #CGJAChapters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)

Take care, stay safe, and let us know how we can help by email at cgjatraining@cgja.org.

March 21, 2020

Return to top


Conducting Virtual Meetings and Interviews

Health officials are recommending that when possible, we avoid public gatherings until the threats posed by the coronavirus have abated. 

For some years, CGJA has suggested as a “best practice” that grand juries hold virtual or telephonic plenary and committee meetings when face-to-face meetings are not possible (see our FAQ page, item 9, at http://cgja.org/grand-jury-faqs.  

Your grand jury can do this by subscribing to a service such as Webex, GoToMeeting, or Skype for virtual meetings, or FreeConferenceCall.com or a similar service for telephone meetings. Any service is fine, as long as every participant can hear every other participant. Contact your county’s or court’s IT department for assistance in subscribing to an online service.

Before holding any meetings remotely, check your Rules of Procedure (the grand jury’s procedures manual) to see if virtual or telephone meetings are prohibited. If that’s the case, the grand jury can amend its rules on a supermajority vote (12 votes in a 19-member jury and 8 in an 11-member jury).

Interviews can also be conducted remotely, using the same technology. (See FAQ item 45) To protect confidentiality, be sure that the interviewee is in a secure location, is alone, and is not recording the interview. Two or more jurors must be participating at all times during the interview. As with virtual or telephone meetings, it is essential that every participant can hear every other. At the beginning of the interview, all of the participants should introduce themselves and if the interview is being recorded, each must acknowledge the recording and agree to it. If your procedures manual doesn’t allow for remote interviews, you can amend it to allow them.

Consult your legal advisor whenever you amend your rules of procedure.

During the near future, more of the communications among grand jurors will likely be by email. Remember to place all confidential information in a password-protected attachment, rather than in the body of the email. The attachment’s title or file name should not reveal confidential information.

This is a challenging time for everyone. Fortunately, the availability of technology makes it possible for your grand jury to continue its important and time-sensitive work during the coronavirus pandemic.

March 15, 2020

Return to top