VISTA – Each summer, 19 people that reside in the county are randomly selected from applications to serve on the San Diego County Grand Jury, and this year Vista resident Jim Lewis, 67, was chosen to lead the grand jury.
“I’m thankful to have this opportunity to go through this for the next year,” Lewis said.
He said he applied last year to become a grand juror after a friend, who had served previously, told him she thought he might be interested.
He was selected out of a total of 86 applicants this year, according to officials.
Lewis served on the Salt Lake City, Utah, police department for 10 years, then worked for the Utah crime bureau for a couple of years before moving his family to Southern California, he said.
He worked in a management position with the United Parcel Service before retiring.
Lewis said that the mission of the grand jury is to represent the citizens of San Diego by investigating the actions of local government and special districts, but it also includes reporting on the good things.
“Most people think we’re only looking for bad things that go on, but that’s not true,” Lewis said.
Last year, for example, the law and justice committee found the county’s detention facilities to have good food, good health care and clean facilities, he said.
The San Diego County Grand Jury is not part of trial juries. They are regular citizens who have the power to investigate public agencies such as health and human services and environmental public works, and make sure they are serving honest and fair.
They do not handle criminal activity, but civil issues.
“They are kind of referred to as the watch dog of the community,” said Laura Nicks, San Diego County Grand Jury coordinator. “They look into local government entities to be sure they are running properly.”
Nicks said it’s essentially a full-time commitment for a year, and the jurors are paid a daily stipend of $25 and mileage to and from the courthouse.
She said that anyone who meets the criteria could apply each mid-November to become a grand juror, and judges then interview applicants.
The names of potential grand jurors are placed in five hoppers — one for each of the county’s supervisory districts — and jurors are selected by lottery.
The Superior Court’s presiding judge selects the foreman of the jury. The grand jurors officially began service July 11.
During a grand jury investigation, if an agency is found to be out of compliance with something, a report is generated by the grand jury and that entity is required to respond within 90 days.
That entity has to indicate on whether or not they agree with the recommendation, Nicks said.
Anyone can send in a complaint to the grand jury at any time, Lewis said. The grand jury will review it and check it for merit and see if the complainant should seek legal advice instead.
If it’s a grand jury-suitable issue, then a private investigation begins.
To read public reports, to file a complaint or for more information, go to sdcounty.ca.gov/grandjury/.