County to impanel grand jury

Douglas County district judges Dave Gamble and Michael Gibbons have called for a grand jury for a routine "wellness check" of county government.

Gamble said questionnaires will be distributed in the next few weeks to select 17 grand jurors and 19 alternates from the current jury pool.

Grand jurors may serve up to one year.

"A grand jury is regularly impaneled to assure residents that their county government is being run appropriately," he said.

He likened it to a wellness check by the family physician.

"I want to emphasize this isn't the result of any citizen's complaint or application. It's a normal, run-of-the-mill self-examination."

Gamble said the county budget includes $100,000 for the grand jury. That includes jury pay of $40 a day and funds to hire outside counsel or other assistance.

The jury is under the supervision of the district judges.

"I think it's an excellent process for the county to review how it functions," said Gibbons. "It's important to have an outside entity - a truly independent body - look at county government to see if everything is working as effectively as it should be and if there are ways to improve it."

To be a grand juror, a person must be a qualified elector in Douglas County.

"People are afraid they have to be amateur lawyers to be on the grand jury," Gamble said. "That's just not true. We want a real cross-section of the community, people without any ax to grind. We look for jurors from all walks of life and economic strata."

The jury doesn't accept volunteers, Gamble said.

And, people who receive questionnaires for service may decline if their work or family demands are too consuming.

"From the group of people willing to serve, they go through a selection process with the judges," Gamble said.

He said the jury meets about once a week as a whole and as subcommittees to tackle certain issues.

The jurors have the power to subpoena witnesses and hire lawyers.

"The jury, to a great extent, is self-governed," Gamble said. "It's the district court's duty to advise them and set parameters. The grand jury is free to hire lawyers, consultants, whatever it needs to do its work."

Gamble also said the judges bring in former grand jurors to help the new panel.

"The jurors really fit together after awhile," Gamble said. "It's a great thing to watch. They really have the county interest at heart."

Past grand juries were called in 2000-2001, 1993-94 and 1988-90.

Gibbons said the judges would review past grand jury reports with the new panel.

The public is invited to make suggestions as to what the jury should investigate.

Forms will be available at the county libraries and online.

The jury won't consider unsigned requests.

"We want to avoid a witch hunt," Gamble said.


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