SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, the court-appointed watchdog behind a swath of notable public accountability investigations — including the ongoing corruption trial against Sheriff Laurie Smith — is still inviting prospective jurors for the 2023 term.
Superior Court officials have set a Sept. 16 application deadline for people interested in serving the term, which lasts for the calendar year.
The 19-member jury panel has a wide berth for the topics, entities and public officials that members choose to examine, and extensive access to officials and records. Their purview largely involves governmental functions and use of public funds, as well as the condition of jails and juvenile detention.
Over the past few years, jurors investigated matters like lobbying transparency in the San Jose Unified School District, female firefighter hire and dropout rates, conservatorships, lagging 911 response times in San Jose, and Santa Clara’s handling of public-records access. In the last full term, for 2021, the group took on topics including affordable housing in Palo Alto and Mountain View and oversight of bond measure spending.
“The court seeks the most qualified applicants of diverse backgrounds reflecting the broad diversity of the population of Santa Clara County, as well as individuals representative of the county’s geographical areas and age groups,” Presiding Judge Theodore Zayner said in a statement. “There is no particular background, training, or experience required to serve – all civic-minded individuals who share a dedication to democratic ideals are encouraged to apply.”
Last year, the civil grand jury completed one of its highest-profile investigations in recent memory and handed down formal corruption accusations against Sheriff Smith, alleging that her issuing of concealed-carry weapons permits was rife with favoritism and favor-trading, and that she was actively stalling civilian oversight over her agency.
The accusations issued by the civil grand jury employed a little-known authority bestowed on the body to keep public officials in line: A guilty verdict in an upcoming trial — set to begin Sept. 21 — would forcibly remove Smith from office.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and resident of the county. Civil grand jurors typically work an average of 25 hours per week in the voluntary role.
On Sept. 12 at 4 p.m., the court will be hosting an online panel on Zoom in which current and former members will share their experiences serving on the civil grand jury. Registration for that panel can be done online at bit.ly/3wFPmod.
More information, and applications, can be found online at scscourt.org/cgj. Additional questions can be emailed to CGJ@scscourt.org or directed to Civil Grand Jury Deputy Manager Britney Huelbig at 408-882-2721.