Grand Jury Application Extension Offers An Opportunity To Take Back the System

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courtroom.jpgThe Yolo County Grand Jury is extending its deadline to look for applicants to the Grand Jury Pool.  The Grand Jury plays a crucial role both in determining who gets indicted for crimes and also in terms of investigating local agencies for possible wrong doing. 

It was the Yolo County Grand Jury that shined light on problems in the Davis Fire Stations including drunken firefighters sleeping off their inebriation as well as hostile work environment created by too close a relationship between the union and management.

However, this represents a golden opportunity for the minority community to get involved in part of the judicial process that determines in part, who gets charged for crimes.  It is this aspect that has been troubling as the case of David Serena points out.  It was discovered after his indictment, that Latinos are well underrepresented on the Grand Jury.

Serena Case

When David Serena, head of the Yolo County Housing Authority, was arrested it was bold headlines around the county.  All of these charges stemmed from medical benefits that were received for the children of Serena’s girlfriend who would become his wife.

It took 20 months and tens of thousands in legal expenses for the charges to be dismissed.  udge Richard Kossow–a visiting judge since all Yolo County judges had to recuse themselves due to the Grand Jury lawsuit–issued the order that according to preliminary hearing evidence, it was unlikely that there was sufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing to convict David Serena.

The key witness was the insurance agent, a witness for the prosecution, who was ask how often people file erroneous claims or otherwise make errors when they fill out their insurance papers.  They said about 5% of the time. They were then asked what sort of remedy the insurance company ordinarily sought for such errors–whether they sought to correct the error and recoup the money or if they normally forwarded it to the District Attorney. According to Mr. Serena, they said that they never would forward such a matter to the District Attorney

Many believe that this incident shows an effort to come up with a witch-hunt against Mr. Serena.  For all of the investigations against David Serena, this was the only thing they could find that they could file criminal charges against him on.  However, DA David Henderson prevailed on the Grand Jury to charge him with 19 felony counts in this matter.

As a result, David Serena filed a lawsuit against the Yolo County Grand Jury challenging the recruitment and selection process for Yolo County grand juries.  His contended that the composition process of the grand jury was discriminatory against Latinos.

Toward that end, Mr. Serena and his legal team produced statistics that showed a 13.5 percent discrepancy between expected and actual Latino composition.

However, in dismissing that particular U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ruled that the three year time period was not long enough to demonstrate substantial underrepresentation of Latinos. Moreover, they did not have direct evidence of intent to discriminate.

Over the past 10 years, Latinos have only been underrepresented by 6.5 percent which would be equivalent of around one juror on average. This was not enough to demonstrate a violation under the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

However, Judge Damrell did say that while he could not consider solely the last three years, he did find the higher disparity in the last three years to be troubling.

Press Release Extending Deadline to April 30, 2010

As noted above, there is now an opportunity to change that by simply getting the word out to Latino Communities as to this application process.

According to a press release sent out Friday from the Yolo County Court Executive Office:

Yolo Superior Court is now accepting applications for the 2010/2011 Yolo County Grand Jury.  Each July 1 the Yolo Superior Court impanels 19 grand jurors who serve as an arm of the judicial system, but act as an entirely independent body. 

The primary civil function of the grand jury is to review the operations of city and county government as well as other tax supported agencies and special districts.  Based on these assessments, the grand jury publishes its findings and may recommend constructive action to improve the quality and effectiveness of local government.

If selected, the term of service is a period of one year, from July 1 through June 30.  You should be committed to serving the entire year.  The average time commitment is approximately 25-40 hours per month.  Generally, the grand jury meets twice per month, usually in the evening.  For each day’s attendance, reimbursement to grand jurors is at the rate of fifteen dollars ($15) per day and fifty-five cents ($0.55) per mile round trip from their home to the meeting location.  Due to multiple requests, we are extending the submission deadline for the Grand Jury application.  Please submit all applications by Friday, April 30, 2010.

For a grand jury application, write, go online, or call:     

Yolo Superior Court
Jury Services Office
725 Court St., Room 303
Woodland, CA  95695
(530) 406-6828   
www.yolo.courts.ca.gov

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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