An order dated Feb. 22 and signed by Judge Steven Bailey discharged the entire 2012-13 El Dorado County Grand Jury.
According to the court order, the Grand Jury fell below the minimum of 12 active jurors and was thus discharged. No annual report had been made and there was no time left to select new members before the next Grand Jury is selected.
Ray Van Asten, the foreman of the Grand Jury, said he was bound by statute and couldn’t say why members of the jury resigned, noting that anything that happens in the Grand Jury chamber is considered confidential. “We fell under the maximum number of jurors required,” he said, noting that was all he could really say.
Grand Juror Kirk Smith echoed the sentiment, adding that he joined as a “matter of service” and to “serve the need for oversight,” and being a member had “not been about payment.” He added that he was “sorry it happened” regarding the discharge.
“By statute, (the Grand Jury) expires in June,” explained Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury. Given the time it would take, she said, to mail out summons for replacing members or to get volunteers — the county uses a hybrid system to fill the Grand Jury — to interview for a foreperson and to train the Grand Jury, the group would “not accomplish anything in the time left.” She noted that some of the members had not resigned, but that new members would not be able to take part in interviews for matters that had already been under investigation, which is also set forth by a statute. “Literally, they would have to start over,” Kingsbury said.
With no options left, the Grand Jury was discharged. The selection process for the 2013-2014 Grand Jury will, however, begin in May with summons being sent out and advertisements made. The process will be “up and running shortly,” Kingsbury said. The new Grand Jury will be overseen by Judge Douglas C. Phimister, as Kingsbury makes it a practice to rotate the judges overseeing the Grand Juries.
As the Grand Jury is no longer empaneled, Kingsbury’s intention is that the information that had been collected will be passed on to the next Grand Jury, “who (will) then need to do independent analysis” on the information, she said. They can then determine what to do with the information, if anything. Given the circumstances, no annual report will be made this year.