Orange County court officials hope to boost minority representation on the increasingly high-profile grand jury by urging more people to apply for the yearlong position.
With Friday's application deadline looming, court officials are appealing particularly to Latinos and other minorities who have been underrepresented on previous panels.
The court has received 135 applications so far. Roughly a third are women and almost 20% are minorities. Last year, the court had more than 200 applications and roughly 30% of the grand jurors were minorities.
"The way it works is the more applications we get, the more minority representation we have. It's statistical," said David T. McEachen, assistant presiding judge and chairman of the grand jury. "That's why we're so interested in getting more applications. It's crucial."
The 19-member panel, which meets in secret, considers indictments for felony cases, investigates allegations of corruption by public officials and examines the operations of local governments. Court officials say it is important for the panel to mirror the county's makeup because the body serves as a watchdog for Orange County residents.
Though the panel has sometimes been criticized for tackling minor issues, McEachen said this is far from the case. Most recently, the panel completed a six-month review of the Orange County district attorney's office and issued a critical report of more than 100 pages.
"The grand jury is passionate about improving life in Orange County," McEachen said. "The high-profile reports are sometimes not as important as lower-profile reports that have targeted an area that has been neglected for years."
Applications are available on the court's Web site at www.occourts.org, at the court's Jury Commissioner's Office at Room A100, 700 Civic Center Drive West in Santa Ana or by calling the Grand Jury Hotline at (714) 834-6747.
An orientation for applicants is scheduled for Jan. 30. The selection process will begin afterward. Each qualifying applicant will be interviewed by two Superior Court judges, and the Orange County Sheriff's Department will begin running background checks. Judges will submit nominations for grand jury members, and 19 will be randomly drawn from that pool.