Answers urged about Sutter County grand jury Sutter County association sends letter to supervisors

Blog note: the issues addressed in this article, as in previous articles about the Sutter County 2017-18 Grand Jury, should be newsworthy for all grand juries and the public.
There are more questions than answers surrounding the resignation of the 2017-18 Sutter County grand jury, and the Sutter County Grand Jurors’ Association doesn’t plan to let it be forgotten.
In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, the association requested the board look into allegations surrounding legal advice given or not given to the grand jury and report its findings to residents. It also requested the board request an investigation by the state Department of Justice.
“We are hearing many strong allegations surrounding the 2017-18 grand jury, one of the allegations is that they were threatened they would be sued for libel and told they would not be protected by county counsel if they released the report,” reads the letter, penned by Grand Jurors’ Association President Beckie Jennings and Vice President Steve Meyer.
In a June 25 letter addressed to judges Brian Aronson and Sarah Heckman, the jurors state that they resigned in protest “as we were prevented from fulfilling our duty as watchdog for Sutter County.” The letter was provided to the Appeal-Democrat Tuesday from the Sutter County Superior Court.
No members of the 2017-18 grand jury showed up to the June 29 empanelment of the new grand jury, and Judge Sarah Heckman said they elected to not publish a report this year. The Board of Supervisors, the city of Yuba City and other affected departments received portions of a preliminary report, but are prohibited from releasing it due to the penal code.
In a letter last month, local private attorneys Jesse Santana and Chris Carlos requested a copy of the unpublished report, saying they believe it contains material pertinent to clients they represent: Santana represents Danelle Stylos, the former county Development Services director who was arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of perjury, voter fraud, petty theft and filing false information on a concealed carry permit. Carlos represents Jason Parker, the former chief investigator for the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office who is fighting his 2017 termination and filed a claim against the county alleging a hostile work environment.
“Our citizens have a right to know whether or not our grand jury system was compromised and to discover if there was in fact improper pressure placed on the jury to redact information from their report or too (sic) not publish their findings,” the letter reads.
Board Chairman Dan Flores said he met with Jennings on Monday to hear her concerns and to read the letter; Jennings has 11 years of experience training grand jurors.
“I think that it would warrant at this point, at the very least, a letter or request coming from the board to the court, possibly the attorney general, just asking to explain the process to use and give us a better understanding,” Flores said Tuesday.
He said the board feels caught in the middle – respecting confidentiality of the grand jury process, while wanting to give answers to constituents. He said it’s difficult to address specific allegations when so much of what happened, or didn’t happen, is in the dark.
“How do we ask as elected individuals, how do we ask on behalf of our constituents without crossing lines?” he said. “I want to know not only the process, but what can we do in the future to avoid this type of occurrence?”
The letter states the importance of the grand jury’s watchdog function and citizens’ right to know whether it was compromised. Jennings said she encourages residents to also pen letters of concern to the attorney general.
“This matters to everyone in the community. What we can’t have is the process go awry, whatever happened,” she said. “It appears something went very, very wrong.”
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Sutter County Public Information Officer Chuck Smith said the board has expressed disappointment that a report was not issued this year, and it puts them in a difficult position.
“The Board of Supervisors cannot legally comment as the Superior Court advised that the preliminary report is confidential and that an authorized final report was not produced,” Smith said. “Discussions between outside legal counsel and the Grand Jury are also confidential, and were not shared with Sutter County, including the Board of Supervisors.”
Sutter County Superior Court Executive Officer Stephanie Hansel said in an email judges are not permitted to comment on the legality of particular issues.
“The Sutter Superior Court recognizes and values the dedicated service of all Sutter County Grand Jurors – past, present, and future – and continues to be committed to maintaining the integrity of the grand jury process,” she wrote.
On Monday, a Sacramento attorney representing the county denied an Appeal-Democrat Public Records Act request for emails from Jordan pertaining to the grand jury, stating the documents are protected from disclosure by “attorney-client privilege, attorney work product doctrine, deliberative process and official information privileges.”
August 7, 2018
Appeal Democrat
By Rachel Rosenbaum