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California lawmakers renew push to diversify grand juries, raise pay

Grand juries are in charge of overseeing local government programs and keeping them in check, but lawmakers say more incentives are needed to attract applicants.
Credit: ABC10

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Every county in California has a civil grand jury in charge of overseeing city and county operations, like looking into the conditions of a local prison. 

However, some lawmakers say grand juries are often lacking diversity — and there’s a renewed push to change that.

San Diego Assemblymember Chris Ward says most people are familiar with the traditional jury system. You get a summon, you show up to court, and if chosen, you will will hear evidence and judge the fate of a case.

“But the grand jury is something much obscure and often behind the scenes, but plays a significant role in our civic institutions,” said Ward. 

A grand jury is picked once a year on a volunteer basis, and Sacramento residents have until Dec. 30 to apply to be a member.

“They have responsibility for overseeing a lot of operations," said Ward. "Questions about whether the cities or the county are doing good jobs on certain responsibilities, whether the county jail system is being adequately maintained and properly supported, and other functions that are under the law.”

The pay for the Sacramento County Grand Jury is $30 a day when they meet. There's a free parking and mileage reimbursement, but it's also a year-long commitment. Because of that, Ward says the juries lack diversity.

“They don't always reflect the diversity and the demographics of the given county district," said Ward.

He said there is no data collected from counties on the makeup of their grand juries. 

“Those that have participated, have found that they can be disproportionately Caucasian, disproportionately much older because right now, not many people know about this, and it tends to attract retirees," said Ward, adding that he's grateful for their service.

So he’s attempting for a second time to author a bill, Assembly Bill 78,  which will require counties and court systems to look at diversity metrics, educate and do outreach to inform people the grand jury exists, and increase the compensation.

“To up the compensation because we know that's a barrier for many to be able to participate," said Ward. "We want to see that elevated to something that doesn't make it a barrier for more people to be able to participate”

His bill made it through the assembly last session, then made it through several committees in the Senate before it died. He said he’s going to work closely with the senate staff this time around to see what changes he needs to make in order for this to get passed.

Sacramento residents have until Dec. 30 to apply to be a member of the grand jury. 

San Diego residents only have a few more weeks to apply to be a member of your grand jury.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the pay for a Sacramento County Grand Juror.

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