COMMENTARY ON GRAND JURIES : Serving on a Panel Is One of the Best Jobs Anywhere : The hours may be long but the subjects are engaging, and the work force is filled with inquiring minds.

Jim Cooper is a member of the 1993-94 Grand Jury. He is also an executive producer and host at KOCE-TV, Orange County public television.

An important "window of opportunity" has opened in Orange County for 19 jobs that pay $25 a day. I've got one of those jobs--and I enjoy going to work every day! That "window" is the legal time period for people to apply for membership on next year's county grand jury.

The application period will remain open through January. Those selected will serve on the next grand jury, from July 1, 1994, through June 30, 1995.

Who's eligible? Orange County men and women of all backgrounds over age 18, who are U.S. citizens without a criminal record, are invited to apply. I hope that this year there will be a record-smashing number of applicants. Those selected will discover a rewarding and fascinating year ahead!

As a journalist in print, radio and television in Orange County for the past 40 years, I have reported on the work of many grand juries. Many of their best reports, in past years, simply gathered dust on county shelves. (There is no mandate that the jury recommendations be implemented.)

But there is also an impressive legacy of grand jury reports in the county's history in which wrongdoing was exposed, incompetence disclosed, tax-money waste revealed, and practical improvements put into operation.

I wanted to know what the job of a grand juror is like from the "inside." I applied, and at the lottery held at the end of the selection process last June, I was designated as an alternate. When another member dropped out, I was seated on this grand jury. (I must make it clear that these observations are strictly my own. No single member has the authority to speak on behalf of the full grand jury.)

Our team of 19 jurors includes four Latinos, one black and 14 whites. There are six women, and 13 men. Our average age is 63. There is a remarkable variety in the occupational and professional backgrounds of my fellow jurors. What they share in common is a very healthy curiosity, and a refreshing objectivity in reviewing local institutions of government.

But more awareness, and more applicants are needed from every segment and age group in this excitingly diverse population of Orange County. This month the grand jury, the courts, and the jury commissioner jointly launched the biggest grand jury awareness and recruiting effort in county history. They are supported by 21 civic and ethnic groups that are helping to get the new, easy-to-read application flyers out. Brochures have been printed in Spanish and Vietnamese.

The jury panel has two main areas of responsibility--civil and criminal. The civil assignment, which takes up about 75% of a juror's time, calls for reviewing county, city, and special district governance, including everything from operation and service to handling of tax dollars.

Consider the challenge facing the various committees of the grand jury in reviewing our county government operation. It's a grant "business" owned by the people, with a $3.6-billion budget, 16,000 workers and a maze of 29 different departments.

The second area of jurors' responsibility is in hearing criminal cases, and where probable cause for a trial is presented, voting on indictments. The crimes run the full gamut of major felonies, including major political wrongdoing.

People who cannot respect others or have tolerance for differing views should not consider grand jury membership. Those who enjoy healthy discourse on all kinds of issues will find it to be a delight.

When some of the improvements called for by the grand jury are implemented--and they are--they justify the long hours of work by jurors. The jury's work week is at least four, and often five days a week.

Anyone interested in one of the 19, $25-a-day jobs that will be available on the next jury panel can call the grand jury hot line, (714) 834-6747, for information and an application.

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