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Countywide : Jury Recruitment Is Meeting With Success

At a time when the Orange County Grand Jury is under fire for lacking ethnic minorities, court officials say a new campaign to recruit volunteers for the yearlong panel is meeting with success.

In the first 30 days of a three-month campaign to raise public interest in the grand jury, at least 210 requests for applications have been received. That is more than the total number of applications received in last year’s entire recruitment effort, court officials said.

“Needless to say, we’re thrilled, we’re very happy with the progress that’s being made,” said Bahia Wilson, chairwoman of the Special Issues Committee of the Orange County 1993-94 Grand Jury. “It’s just great that so many people are pulling together on this one.”

The grand jury has been criticized in recent months by Latino community leaders and others who say the powerful panel lacks ethnic diversity. Critics say this leads to biased investigations by the watchdog panel, such as a controversial report the grand jury issued in June that blamed illegal immigration for a variety of social ills.

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Several Orange County defense attorneys are challenging indictments handed down by the past grand jury. Defense attorneys said they believe the indictments should be overturned because defendants are being denied their right to have an ethnically diverse grand jury decide their fate.

Court officials, however, say they have always been committed to reaching a cross-section of Orange County residents, but point out it is difficult to find jurors willing to volunteer their services for a year. Grand jurors are paid $25 a day plus mileage and parking fees.

The County Board of Supervisors dubbed November “Grand Jury Awareness” month as part of stepped-up recruitment efforts and recently presented an award to Comcast Cablevision of Orange County, which volunteered to create a public service announcement for the campaign.


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