Judges seeking more diverse civil grand jury 

Minorities are not well-represented on San Francisco’s civil grand jury, to the detriment of their communities, a committee of Superior Court judges said Tuesday.

The overwhelming majority of applicants to the volunteer civilian watchdog group are white, with Asian, black, Hispanic and  American Indian candidates numbering only a handful, according to the court.

“If you don’t have the members of the public there to say, ‘Well, let’s investigate such-and-such,’ then you’re missing entire segments of The City,” said Judge Charlotte Woolard, chairwoman of the court’s civil grand jury committee. “So we are reaching — or attempting to reach — the goal of having every community represented.”

The 19-member civil grand jury — required of each county under state law — convenes for a year, conducting investigations of city and county government and its agencies, and issues policy recommendations in reports.

Some of the reports have had significant impacts, such as a recent one warning of a city employee “pension tsunami,” which helped spur legislation to cope with the problem.

Last year, the grand jury issued reports on Parkmerced, city hiring practices, the Ethics Commission, the Central Subway plan, the Bayview-Hunters Point redevelopment project and The City’s whistle-blower program.

Judges noted that the time demands of serving on a grand jury tend to discourage people who need to work full time.

“It also has to be meaningful,” added Judge Lillian Sing. “I think in the past … the subjects have not been that meaningful to the minority community.”

This year, for the first time, the grand jury application will include an optional question about sexual orientation in an effort to attract more gay and lesbian jurors.

“So many people, especially in San Francisco, love to complain about everything that’s going on,” said Beate Boultinghouse, president of the local chapter of the California Grand Jurors’ Association. “But what do they do? How can they do anything? Well, if you serve on the civil grand jury, you can have a voice. You can see how the government works, and you can see where something is going wrong.”

While diversity is important, Judge Samuel Feng said interest in civic issues is vital.

“I think it’s a cop-out, these days, if you’re concerned about this city, the issues that are so important to this community, and you just sit there, you don’t do anything,” Feng said.

Those interested should apply with the Superior Court by April 15.


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