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.

September 4 - Coping with COVID

This guidance for grand jurors serving during the COVID-19 pandemic includes extended term juries, incoming juries with shortened terms, holding meetings, conducting interviews, participating in detention facility tours and other site visits, drafting and editing reports, communication among grand jurors, and collegiality and teamwork.

May 5 - Trinity County BoS Resolution

This resolution by the Trinity County Board of Supervisors addresses the county's change from fiscal to calendar year for the 2021 grand jury term in response to the pandemic.

April 25 - Grand Jury Impanelment Update

This letter, sent to presiding judges, supervising judges, court executive officers, and county counsels is an update to the April 6 letter below.

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 report. 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 30  -  Letter to Chapter and Association Presidents

This letter addresses coronavirus implications on chapter activities.

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.


 

COPING WITH COVID

 

California’s civil grand juries are having to adapt to the COVID-19 world, in which face-to-face contacts are less frequent. Most grand jurors will need to learn to meet, conduct interviews, and collaborate on report writing and editing remotely.

The pandemic-related restrictions have affected different grand juries in various ways.

Some superior courts have extended the 2019-2020 grand jury term, both because their grand juries had trouble completing their business during the lockdown this spring, and to avoid incurring a gap between the current grand jury term and the next jury term, the beginning of which has been delayed due to difficulties in recruiting jurors as a result of COVID-19. Those incoming juries will serve a truncated term. Other courts and counties have decided to switch to a calendar-year term from the usual fiscal-year term, allowing impaneling to be delayed until January.

Many grand juries will conduct most of their business remotely until all pandemic restrictions are lifted. Some will continue to meet in person, following social distancing and sanitation guidelines. Others will do a bit of both. Many grand jury interviews are now being conducted remotely; this may continue for at least the immediate future.

Several grand juries have asked CGJA to provide some suggestions for helping grand juries cope with this new reality. We hope that the following ideas will prove useful, and we ask you to contact us if you have additional ideas we can add to this page.

Extended Term Juries

We encourage those 2019/2020 grand juries that have not yet been discharged to maintain high standards for any investigations or reports they are still working on. It may be tempting in times like this to want to take shortcuts.

Juries should only complete their current investigations if they can do so in a careful and thorough way, remembering that all the report’s findings must be based on documented evidence. Jurors must ensure that all of their facts are verified, the findings accurate, and the recommendations reasonable. One or more exit interviews can and should still be conducted (perhaps remotely) before the jury finalizes and releases a report.

The grand jury may not be able to properly finish all of its investigations because of the need to work remotely, in which case it must keep in mind that at least one investigation and report on some aspect of county government is required each year. (PC §925)

As to other investigations and reports, the jury should concentrate its efforts and limited resources on those that are worth finalizing.

The grand jury can, under Penal Code §924.4, pass on civil investigative files to the succeeding grand jury. This might be welcomed by the next jury if it has a truncated term, as it may not have the time to go through the usual lengthy process of deliberating among and prioritizing many potential topics. The succeeding jury would decide whether to investigate and report on the topic that was passed forward. More about this can be found in the 2020-2021 CGJA Training Manual in Tab 5 at pages 5-6.

Those juries that have finished their work but still have time left in their extended term will probably continue to acknowledge any citizen complaints they receive and could begin research on the topic contained in a complaint if warranted; they can then forward the file to the succeeding jury at the end of this term.

Other juries with extended terms might take on a special project, such as updating the jury’s procedures manual or analyzing the responses they receive to the reports they issued earlier in the term. On the other hand, once the reports are complete, a jury may choose to not take on any additional tasks.

In some counties, the jury might be called upon to consider an indictment during the extended term.

Incoming Juries with Shortened Terms

Incoming grand juries with terms of less than 12 months will have to be realistic about how many inquiries, investigations, and reports they will be able to complete.

It is difficult to compress the time the jury needs for certain routine activities. It always takes several weeks at the beginning of the term to organize a grand jury – electing officers, choosing what committees to form, and attending training and orientation programs.

Near the end of the term, the reports must be submitted to the jury’s legal advisor early enough to give the advisor time to review them and make comments, while leaving the jury enough time to revise them if issues are identified. The jury should allow time to conduct an exit interview and make further changes, if needed, based on that interview. The judge’s review can also take time.

This could mean that the time “lost” comes from the middle of the grand jury’s term, when the jury conducts its investigations and writes and edits its reports. If the term has been shortened by two or more months, the jury will probably be unable to carefully and thoroughly investigate more than a handful of topics.

Jurors need to be realistic about this and take on only the amount of work they are sure they can do well. They might tackle fewer investigations than are normal for that county. At least one jury has decided to issue only three reports, forming three ad hoc investigative committees, each with six jurors (with the foreperson an ex officio member of each).

Those juries issuing a smaller number of reports will need to carefully prioritize their investigation topics, choosing only those that are likely to result in meritorious reports on important topics. (See the 2020-2021 CGJA Training Manual, Tab 5, page 26, for a “Score Sheet for Prioritizing Investigation Topics.”)

Holding Meetings

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 https://www.cgja.org/grand-jury-faqs.

Many grand juries are now doing this for all their meetings. They subscribe to a service such as Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, or Skype for virtual meetings, or FreeConferenceCall.com or a similar service for telephonic meetings.

The grand jury should contact its county or court IT department for assistance in subscribing to an online service. For security reasons, the personal account of one of the jurors should not be used.

We have posted a “Comparison Guide: Video Conferencing Tools for Your Nonprofit” from TechSoup here. It may help grand juries in selecting the best tool for their needs and circumstances. Juries interested in using Zoom can view a number of videos on how to use the service, including one posted here.

CGJA’s website, https://www.cgja.org, has a special “coronavirus” page which contains instructions on using Zoom, as well as general information about the pandemic’s effect on the terms and operations of grand juries throughout the state.

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

The jury might adopt specific protocols or ground rules related to remote meetings. They might include the requirement that all of the jurors keep their cameras on during the meeting, use “gallery view,” and wave their hand in front of the camera to be called on to speak. Another requirement could be that any jurors who need to recuse due to an actual or perceived bias or conflict of interest should leave the meeting when the topic in question is discussed; another juror can text them when it is time to rejoin the meeting. Another possible rule is that when a motion requires a supermajority vote to pass, and the meeting is being conducted telephonically, a roll call must be taken to confirm the number of votes.

Meeting remotely may be difficult for many jurors, and impossible for a few. Some jurors may not own a computer; the grand jury should consider asking the county to provide the necessary number of laptops for those jurors’ use. Some jurors have unreliable internet service, or limited experience with technology, and will need or prefer to phone in. Special efforts may be necessary to allow all jurors to fully participate. Juries should contact their county or court IT for assistance and training as needed.

In addition, if the court is or will be recruiting prospective jurors for the upcoming term, the application materials could require applicants to describe their ability to use technology for meetings and interviews and to collaboratively draft and edit reports.

Conducting Interviews

Interviews can also be conducted remotely, using the same technology employed for meetings.

After scheduling the remote interview, the grand jury will need to send a meeting invitation to the interviewee in advance, with log-in instructions if needed. The invitation should advise the interviewee that in order to protect confidentiality during the interview, the interviewee must be in a secure location where they cannot be overheard and will be alone.

As the interview begins, the grand jury’s interview team should confirm that the interviewee is alone in a room where the interview will not be interrupted or overheard. The interviewee should be directed not to record the interview. The team may record it, as long as all participants agree on the record, as required by state law.

Two or more jurors must participate at all times during the interview. They, too, must be in private rooms where they will not be interrupted or overheard.

The lead interviewer should read an admonition to the interviewee, directing them to keep confidential everything they learn during the interview. As the interview closes, the lead interviewer should remind the interviewee of the admonition and, immediately after the interview ends, send a copy of it to them.

In the case of any interview (or meeting) using remote technology, it is essential that every participant be able to hear all the other attendees. Before the interview begins, all of the participants should make sure that their microphones and cameras are working properly.

As the interview team prepares for a video interview, the jurors should decide on how the jurors other than the lead interviewer will ask questions during the interview – by raising their hands, or just interrupting?

If the grand jury’s procedures manual prohibits remote interviews, the jury can amend it to allow them, upon a supermajority vote. The jury should consult its legal advisor whenever it amends its rules of procedure.

Participating in Detention Facility Tours and Other Site Visits and Observations

Grand jury tours of detention facilities and other government facilities may not be possible or advisable this year, or the number of jurors who can take part in the tour might need to be limited.

The grand jury is mandated to “inquire” into the condition and management of the public prisons within the county (in some counties, the term “public prison” is understood to include county or city operated detention facilities, as well as those operated by the state). If the managers of the facility prohibit a tour because of COVID-19, the jury can nonetheless “inquire” by reading the most recent reports on the facility by the Board of State and Community Corrections, or by interviewing (perhaps remotely) one or more of its managers and employees. It should be noted that no report is required on an inquiry. (PC §919)

Grand jury investigating committees routinely attend the public meetings of governing boards. If public attendance is limited or prohibited, committee members should be able to watch the meeting as it is being streamed or review a recording of it later.

Drafting and Editing Reports

Some investigating committees and editorial committees will not be able to meet in person during the pandemic. This will require the jury to find ways to draft and edit reports collaboratively using technology.

Most juries already use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes (similar tools are available in other word processing or document sharing applications). It enables multiple users to collaborate on drafting or editing a document, and each person’s proposed changes are tracked and displayed in a different color. The changes are not included in the document text until they are accepted.

Track Changes allows the users to keep a record of the additions, deletions, and changes that are made to a document as it is being created and edited. Others can view the document as it currently stands or see the editing history and can see what has been removed or added, when it was changed, and who made the changes. If someone wants to make a comment or suggestion while editing, they can go to “insert comments,” highlight the text they wish to comment on, and the comment will show up in the margin. Comments can be deleted by clicking on the button to the right of the comment insertion button.

Once agreement is reached on an individual change, it may be accepted by clicking on the “Accept” button. A suggested change can be rejected in similar fashion. If agreement is reached on all of the suggested changes, they can be accepted (or rejected) by a single command.

Some jurors might be unfamiliar with or reluctant to use collaborative writing tools. The jury can contact their County IT to arrange for training. Or a tech savvy juror might provide tutoring.

Communications Among Grand Jurors

During the pandemic, most of the communications among grand jurors will likely be by email. The jurors should 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, such as the topic of the investigation or the name of an interviewee.

Collegiality and Teamwork

Even in normal times, it takes a while for a grand jury to come together as a team. While contact restrictions are in place, it will be much more difficult for that process to happen, or to happen as quickly as the jury might like.

We recommend that the grand jury incorporate team-building efforts into its meetings, routinely allocating a time slot to developing bonds among the jurors. Some juries are appointing a Team Building Committee to formalize this process.

There are many ice breakers and team building activities described online. The grand jury might find these websites of interest:

 

One grand jury’s favorite ice breaker is “bring your pet day.” During a zoom meeting, everyone introduces their dogs or cats by holding them up in front of the camera. There are dozens of other ways for jurors to get to know each other.

Forging bonds among the jurors and creating an environment for candid, open communication is particularly essential now.

Summary

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

Please contact us at cgjatraining@cgja.org if you have questions about any of the information we have provided here.

 

CGJA’s Pandemic Response Coordination Workgroup:

Karen Jahr, Co-Chair
Marsha Caranci, Co-Chair
Larry Herbst, CGJA President
William Harvey, member
Teri Goldner, member


Resolution 2020-030

A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
OF THE COUNTY OF TRINITY
CHANGING FROM FISCAL YEAR TO CALENDAR YEAR
THE TERM IN WHICH GRAND JURY MEMBERS SERVE
PURSUANT TO PENAL CODE 905.5

WHEREAS, Penal Code 905.5(a) provides that the grand jury shall be impaneled and serve during the fiscal year of
the county and the grand jury in Trinity County has historically served fiscal year terms; and

WHEREAS, with the upcoming need to impanel a new grand jury and the current status of the coronavirus (COVID-
19), there is concern about the ability to recruit for impanel a new grand jury. The impanelment process requires the
gathering of significantly more than 10 individuals which would violate the current stay-at-home orders issued by state
and local officials; and

WHEREAS, recruiting for and impaneling a grand jury is a time-consuming process that currently happens during the
busiest time of year, switching to a calendar year term would ease the workload and allow this process to take place
during the slower time of year; and

WHEREAS, Penal Code 905.5(b) allows local Boards of Supervisors to change the term from fiscal year to
calendar year; and

WHEREAS, this request has been made by our local superior court and is supported by County Administration.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Supervisors of the County of Trinity change the tenn
for our local grand juries to run on a calendar year basis pursuant to Penal Code 905.5(b); and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the current grand jury will server an extended tenn expiring on or before
December 31, 2020 and the next grand jury will be impaneled in January of 2021. Unless this resolution is superseded
and the Board changes the term for grand juries back to fiscal year, future grand juries will be impaneled in January of
each calendar year.

DULY PASSED AND ADOPTED this 5th day of May, 2020 by the Board of Supervisors of the County of Trinity by
motion, second (Morris/Fenley), and the following vote:

AYES: Supervisors Fenley, Morris, Groves and Chadwick
NOES: None
ABSENT: Supervisor Brown
ABSTAIN: None
RECUSE: None

BOBBl CHADWICK, CHAIRMAN
Board of Supervisors
County of Trinity
State of California

ATTEST: RICHARD KUHNS, Psy.D,
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

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Impaneling the 2020/2021 Civil Grand Jury

Dear Presiding Judges, Supervising Judges, Court Executive Officers, and County Counsel:

The California Grand Jurors’ Association communicated with you earlier this month regarding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Governor’s emergency declaration on civil grand juries in California. We outlined four options for impaneling the next grand jury and have heard from several of you, and some of the current forepersons, concerning how and when your court might discharge the current jury and impanel a new one.

It appears that many superior courts have not yet decided what to do, which is understandable given the fluidity (and novelty) of the current situation. Based on the input we have received and our experience in working with grand juries, we respectfully offer the following information and options to help the courts decide on when to impanel the next grand jury under these extraordinary circumstances.

There is, of course, a great deal of speculation surrounding when the current emergency orders may be lifted or modified, and what might replace them. We believe the most likely scenario is that the state-wide stay-at-home order will be lifted incrementally, rather than all at once. We anticipate three scenarios.

First, it seems likely that group gatherings in excess of perhaps 10 or fewer people will continue to be banned or restricted for some time after the general lifting of stay-at-home orders. While there is no way to predict what that maximum group number might be in a post stay-at-home environment, it seems likely that it may be less than 19 (the size of most grand juries). So even after the current orders are lifted, there might be a period during which the full grand jury would be unable to meet together, face-to-face. 

Second, it also seems likely that stay at home orders will persist longer for persons in higher risk groups, such as individuals over the age of 65. In most cases, grand juries include a large percentage of retired persons and persons over the age of 60.

Third, it also seems likely that social distancing will persist (perhaps with face masks required), even after a general lifting of stay-at-home orders. To our knowledge, most grand jury meeting rooms would not be able to accommodate such personal distancing.

It is important to note that these considerations affect both the impanelment process and the ability of the grand jury, once impaneled, to perform its function effectively. For example, imposing a maximum group size and/or imposing social distancing will impact the ability of most courts to conduct juror recruitment by summons.

Not being able to meet face-to-face would undoubtedly impair the grand juries’ investigative and decision-making processes. Current grand juries have reported that most had nearly completed their investigations when the stay-at-home directives were issued, but had trouble conducting the remaining interviews by videoconference or telephone. More importantly, they reported that their deliberations have become much less robust, with fewer jurors contributing to the discussion. If the next jury cannot meet in person, these problems will not only diminish the quality of its investigations and reports, but will likely affect juror retention.

Continued stay-at-home restrictions applicable to persons over a specific age (60 or 65) will tend to chill the interest of such persons in volunteering for grand jury duty. These individuals are not always tech-savvy and may not be comfortable participating in grand jury meetings and other functions by video-conferencing or the like. Once on the jury, having to interact with their fellow jurors solely in an electronic format may tend to reduce the willingness of such persons to participate actively in deliberations.

Below are our further thoughts regarding the various alternative scenarios offered in our prior letter, in light of the foregoing considerations:

1. Impanel as usual, around July 1

We are aware that some courts have not received a sufficient number of applicants to be able to screen, interview, and seat a qualified jury. Those courts that accepted applications prior to mid-March will probably see that some of those are withdrawn by persons who do not want to serve under the Governor’s current social distancing directives, or will be directed to stay at home longer due to their age or other risk factors.

Therefore, this option might only be feasible in counties where the restrictions are fully lifted by June, or if the demographic makeup of the jury is principally under the age of 65.

2. Transition to a calendar-year term.

Penal Code §905.5 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 option gives the current jury more time to complete its work, if needed. In addition, it takes into account the possibility that restrictions will be lifted in time for the next grand jury to work face-to-face, and, unlike simply delaying the impanelment date (option #3), it would give that jury a full 12 months to conduct its work. A disadvantage is that the next jury will then operate out of sync with the county’s budget cycle, but that could be corrected by reversing the process in 2021/2022. A potential problem is that the coronavirus will surge in the winter, causing the same issues noted above.

3. Delay impaneling the next jury while extending the current jury’s term.

Under this option, the current grand jury would be given more time to complete its work, which has been made more difficult by the current restrictions. The downside is that the next jury will be faced with a shortened term. It takes time for a new jury to get organized and become cohesive. Most investigations take several months to conduct, and reports take additional months to write and edit. In sum, the time needed to do the jury’s work cannot easily be compressed without compromising the quality of the grand jury’s work.

4. Discharge the current grand jury on time, but delay the impaneling of the 2020/2021 jury.

This option might make it difficult for the current jury to finish its work. And as with the preceding option, it limits the ability of the next jury to conduct its work effectively within a compressed timeframe.

5. Do not impanel a 2020/2021 grand jury.

Our earlier letter did not list this as an option because Article 1, §23 of the California Constitution requires that there be at least one grand jury in every county every year. We do not know if the Judicial Council, under its emergency powers, can waive this constitutional requirement under the current emergency circumstances. However, it is our understanding that upon request by the judiciary to the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council may be willing to consider this as an option.

Please let us know what your court decides to do about impaneling the next grand jury so we can compile this information and share it with other courts. You may contact Karen Jahr at karen.jahr@sbcglobal.net or Marsha Caranci at cgjatraining@cgja.org.

Thank you.

Larry Herbst, President, CGJA

Larry Herbst

Karen Jahr, Shasta County Counsel (ret.)
Chair, CGJA Legal and Legislative Resources Committee
Karen.Jahr@sbcglobal.net 

April 25, 2020

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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

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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

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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

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To: Chapter Presidents and Association Presidents

I hope you received a recent message from our Training Committee directed to 2019-20 grand jurors and others about completing the current grand jury term and selecting and impaneling the grand jurors for 2020-21 in light of the statewide shelter-in-place order because of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier, our Training Committee sent a message only to current grand jurors about conducting virtual meetings and interviews. Both are posted on our website.

We would now like to specifically address some of the problems that chapters face, especially those related to the statewide shelter-in-place order. Thanks to Peter Andrews (president of the Sonoma chapter) and his recent query to all chapter presidents, we now have a feel for what some chapters are experiencing. This is an ever-evolving situation.

Many chapters have had to postpone or cancel their board and membership meetings. A few are beginning to explore the use of video conferencing, which CGJA has used for several years in conducting our monthly board and committee meetings. Video conferencing works best if each participant has a computer (desktop, laptop, or mobile) with a camera and microphone so that you can see and talk directly with each other. But a participant can participate by telephone, as well. CGJA uses a fee service provided by Cisco Webex.

Two companies offer free service that appear to be the most applicable to chapter operations:

Zoom. Zoom's free service has recently shot to the top in social media popularity because of the pandemic. Many of us are meeting with our families and friends via Zoom. Up to 100 people can participate in any meeting, but Zoom limits the duration of each meeting to 40 minutes. However, Zoom does not appear to be enforcing this rule at the moment. You can conduct as many meetings as you want. Zoom also offers a fee version with more features: $12.50/month if paid upfront annually, $14.99/month if paid by the month.

Cisco Webex. Webex has recently made its free service competitive with Zoom. Now up to 100 people can participate (up from 50), and it has no time limit on meeting duration. Webex's fee version with more features costs $9.00/month if paid upfront annually, $13.50/month if paid by the month. Webex's security may be better than Zoom's.

Let me know if you would like more information about them.

Several chapters are also involved with the court in recruiting prospective grand jurors and in interviewing applicants. Community information meetings and in-person applicant interviews may have been delayed or canceled because of the shelter-in-place order. The video conferencing options described above might also be used to interview applicants - with the court's approval. Presumably there would be no security issues.

A good way for all of us to share information among chapters and CGJA is to use hashtags for social media "conversations." Go to #CGJAChapters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And I certainly welcome your comments via email and telephone.

I know about issues that chapters face (except for this one) because I was president of the San Luis Obispo chapter for six years before I began to volunteer with CGJA. I want to make certain that CGJA, through our Membership and Chapter Relations Committee (MCRC), is supporting chapters in any way we can. Accordingly, each MCRC member is now assigned a number of chapters to keep in contact with - maybe every two months or so. It might involve a personal phone call or email message. So don't be surprised to personally hear occasionally from one of us.

MCRC members who are chapter liaisons: Dave Chapel (Orange County), Janet Clark (Alameda), Jerry Kunkle (Butte), Diane Lloyd (Calaveras), and Jim Ragan (San Luis Obispo).

March 30, 2020

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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

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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. For your convenience, we have posted Comparison Guide: Video Conferencing Tools for Your Nonprofit  from TechSoup here. It may help you in selecting the best tool for circumstances.

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

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