By Walter Hofmann
Thanks to the Grand Jury system in California, democracy is alive and well in San Diego County.
To be on the Grand Jury is quite a commitment. I did it for a year from 2004 through 2005 - every day, at least six hours each day. Yep! For a whole year! A valuable, eye-opening experience.
By state law we were required to visit every jail in the county and to report on conditions we found there and make suggestions of any changes or improvements we felt were advisable and appropriate.
Any citizen can file a "complaint" with the Grand Jury on something they believe should be investigated. "Whistle-Blowing" at its best! Each of these requests is carefully evaluated for merit, value, and handled in a careful and serious way.
Now to talk of "democracy." This is individual rights at its best. Each of the 19 jurors has an equal voice and vote. No "boss" to look over your shoulder or "veto" your hard work. Long, thorough, intensive investigation is done through the work of various committees to look at all possible areas of concern.
Then deliberation is undertaken. Sometimes heated. But always with the intent of reaching a fair, reasonable, equitable recommendation that will benefit the community.
Some reports are spectacular, others very ordinary. How about getting your county tax refund or rebate in 30 days instead of nine months? How about the Probation Department sending school reports in a timely manner to the new school? How about improving the staffing of the health inspections of your local restaurant? To find out how some of these reports have benefitted you, go to the Web site listed below.
After one year you will be proud of your contribution to your community. You will know a heck-of-a-lot more about your city and county. For me, it did get a bit boring at times. You have to tolerate listening to some folks who enjoy their soap-box, their day-of-fame as they grand-stand their trivia. But all of this downside will be overshadowed by an almost inspirational feeling that you were involved with democracy at its best as an individual citizen.
Here's how to go about becoming a good citizen to volunteer for this valuable service. Go to
and click on "Forms," then "Application."
Look forward to an exciting, "democratic" experience!
Walter Hofmann of La Jolla is a retired forensic psychiatrist.