Humboldt County seeking new members for Civil Grand Jury


Humboldt County is looking for people to volunteer for the Civil Grand Jury. 

“People refer to the grand jury as the watchdog of the people”, says Richard Bergstresser, foreperson of the civil grand jury. 

“There are very few bodies out there that can investigate the local government. And we’re not looking for wrongdoing, per se. We’re looking for is it functioning the way it’s supposed to function? we’re looking for policy or procedural violations. things that affect the community. So that’s why we’re important, is because there’s really no other mechanism allowed by California law for doing that”, he says. 

California is one of two states in the country with a civil grand jury enshrined in its constitution. Nevada is the other state. A civil grand jury is different from a criminal one in that they do not determine individual parties as guilty or not guilty.

“So typically in criminal matters, those just go through the normal hearing in criminal court. But the civil grand jury is done in confidence, and they need to be able to thoroughly and openly investigate amongst their members in order to provide information to the public, which is the whole purpose”, says Chief Judge Kelly Neel. 

It is a mysterious process, but an important one. 

“It’s not probably very common knowledge of what they actually do. And it’s a huge time commitment. I mean, you’re committing to meeting with a large group of people, coming to agreements about what issues you’re going to investigate, how to investigate them, what role any one person is going to play”, says Neel. 

Anyone can join. You don’t necessarily need a legal background. 

“I did it last year. I really enjoyed it. It’s one of the better things that you can do to serve your community. and I thought, why not”, says Bergstresser, foreperson of the civil grand jury. 

To qualify, you have to be a humboldt county resident for at last a year with no criminal background. 

“It’s a good government intention. Again, as the watchdog, similar to things like the Brown Act, which requires open meetings of elected bodies. They want transparency. And this is a way to help guarantee some transparency”, he said. 

The county likes to have at least 30 people on the civil grand jury so they can convene 19 Jurors for an investigation. 12 Votes are required for a majority. 

You can apply to be a part of the civil grand jury here.

Story by Tucker Caraway