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Former San Joaquin County Grand Jury foreman enjoyed 'making a difference'

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Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:00 pm

When David Renison became foreman of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury two years ago, he wasn't sure what would happen.

Then the 19 grand jurors began investigating San Joaquin Delta College's handling of bond money. They ultimately determined that $55 million had been misused.

That investigation made headline news, and got politicians pushing for further state reviews. Now legislation is pending to prevent such things from happening again, Renison said.

"So people telling me that a few people can't make a difference in the world, they're coming too late to tell me that," Renison told the Lodi Rotary club at its Thursday meeting.

Renison, a Stockton real estate agent, estimated that he put in 25 to 30 hours a week during his two years as head of the grand jury. Like any other juror, he was paid $15 a day on the days the jury met - typically once a week with other committee meetings in between.

On July 1 he turned over the reins to Lodi resident Chet Somera.

Renison obviously has good memories of his time as a grand juror, despite having to read lots of documents and write reports on everything.

The grand jury's job is to investigate elected officials and public agencies in the county. Jurors can initiate their own investigations, or get them from complaints received by citizens.

Such complaints can be anonymous, and the subjects vary. Jail inmates write the longest, wordiest complaints, Renison said, but he said he took all complaints seriously.

Some complaints sound egregious but then further investigation showed an ulterior motive - more than one subject of complaint was involved in litigation and wanted a positive grand jury report to help with legal matters, Renison said.

To start an investigation, at least 12 of the 19 grand jurors must vote to go forward. Then they form committees to split up the work, and then they subpoena documents and ask people testify.

When the investigation is done, the grand jury writes a report, which is approved by the presiding judge before it is released publicly.

The presiding judge also helps interview and select grand jurors, but only in the application process. Ultimately, those who pass background checks and interviews are then randomly selected to make sure they are impartial, Renison said.

Unlike criminal grand jurors, which in San Joaquin County are assembled on a case-by-case basis, the civil grand jurors' terms last for a year. They can renew it for another year if selected by the judge, which Renison did.

"I really enjoyed it. I met a lot of people, saw a lot of government - good and bad," Renison said.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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