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Judges order grand jury

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County’s district judges have issued an order to convene a grand jury that will review county operations.

Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed said she got the order to begin selecting potential jurors Thursday. The first group of 50 possible members probably won’t be picked for a few weeks, she said.

“Right now, we’re in the process of getting the notification form completed to get it off to the printer,” said Reed. “We’re getting all the information together.”

Reed didn’t know how long the printing process would take, but estimated the first group of 50 will probably get the forms two weeks after they’re printed.

Possible jurors will be pulled from the county’s 2000 jury pool, which includes registered voters and licensed drivers. Those picked will have five days to return a questionnaire that establishes, among other things, whether they would be willing to serve on the jury.

Reed expects to solicit three groups of 50 candidates to find 36 prospective, willing jurors. Once they are found, their names are sent to the judges, who will canvass them and decide who to impanel. A total of 17 people, plus a few alternates, will be chosen.

District Judge Dave Gamble said in April that he and District Judge Michael Gibbons want the jury to review county operations, but they don’t suspect any wrongdoing.

A grand jury can be assembled to investigate a specific topic or event. They can also have a more general focus, such as looking at overall county government.

The jury can issue criminal indictments on specific cases it is asked to review or if it uncovers wrongdoing during its own investigation. The jury’s actions are kept secret, but a final report summarizing findings and recommendations is issued.

Previous grand juries have recommended the county impanel a grand jury every two to three years, and Gamble said the 2000 jury is based on that suggestion.

Douglas County’s last grand jury met throughout 1993 and 1994 and studied several county offices, including the airport, East Fork Fire and Paramedic District, the jail, district and justice courts, purchasing and public works, which has since been renamed community development.

Many of the 1993-94 jury’s investigations resulted from complaints filed by Douglas County residents. Residents will again be able to submit complaints, as long as they are signed. The policy is intended to discourage witch hunts, though the identities of those who submit the complaints remain confidential.

Already, a group of Gardnerville Ranchos residents have indicated they may ask the jury to review the county planning department’s actions concerning the Bing Materials pit on Kimmerling Road.

The planning commission approved Bing’s request to expand the pit in April, despite objections from neighbors upset that pit operators had not met a series of conditions included in an earlier special use permit. Robert Havranek, president of the Pleasantview Homeowners Association, suggested in an April letter to the county commission that the issue might be referred to the grand jury.