Who Vets Grand Jury Panelists?
By Larry Gilbert
Each year the Superior Court in Orange County conducts a drawing for citizens to serve on the Grand Jury. This year they selected 19 members and 9 alternates to serve on the Grand Jury for 2014-2015. While we have the opportunity to vet and vote for Superior Court Judges, what do we know about those Grand Jury members? This new panel is to take the oath of office and begin a one-year term on July 1, 2014.
There are many city documents and newspaper articles that I retain for future reference. One example relates to Councilman Breton when he was fundraising for our city library. Quoting from Frank Messina's headline account in the LA Times, he wrote: "Several Orange County architectural firms have accused City Councilman Robert D. Breton of asking them to contribute $1,000 to a library campaign fund if they want a chance to bid for the proposed building's design contract."
I have also retained a copy of a letter from the Irvine architectural firm Lang Lampert sent to Mr. Breton. The second paragraph reads: "Your requirement, however, that we contribute $1,000 to be included in the RFP process is on very shaky ground, morally and legally, and we would not wish to participate under these circumstances. I also feel that this requirement is going to eliminate your most competent design talent."
That Orange County LA Times story and letter from David H. Lang can be read in their entirety here. So it appears that we had "pay to play" in Mission Viejo.
That aside, did the Grand Jury vetting committee ever do a thorough background check on Mr. Breton? Were they aware of this publicized activity? Was it discovered and swept under a rug? Before becoming a member of the OC Sheriff's Homeland Security Advisory Council (“HSAC”), I underwent a lengthy FBI background check. There are more than 3 million residents in Orange County. I have to believe the Grand Jury could find a qualified replacement from the applicant pool without a tarnished background. The selection of Mr. Breton reminds me of the expression “the fox is guarding the henhouse.”
I've forwarded my concerns to the office of Chief Justice Tani Cantiki-Sakauye and CEO Alan M. Carlson along with the five members of the OC Board of Supervisors. With the exception of one confidential reply, they have not responded to my concerns. This was a serious matter that was swept under the rug. An elected city official appeared to be shaking down potential suppliers in an example of "pay to play" if they wished to be considered as a vendor for the city of Mission Viejo. Those solicitations were by Councilman Robert Breton, not just another citizen. Quoting from the LA Times article, Kim Alexander, policy analyst for Common Cause, stated, "I think it’s a very unethical demand." The Times article continues quoting Kim's remarks about perception of Mr. Breton's solicitation; "That line of thought carries a dangerous message...if you don't give a contribution, you won't have access to the bidding process. Another is that if you do [give a donation], you will have greater access. Government is not supposed to be up for bid like that." Perhaps that might explain why we are not adding any new design firms for projects in our city. If you are concerned about the integrity of the Grand Jury vetting process, I encourage you to call the office of the OC Grand Jury to express your concern about Mr. Breton's appointment on behalf of all Orange County residents. Call the Grand Jury department, at (714) 834-6747, and press 0 to express your concerns or to leave a message.
Larry Gilbert, a retired electronics industry executive, has lived in Mission Viejo since 1977. He is an elected board member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. Larry is also a former Board Member of South Coast Christian Assembly church and leader of their Senior Ministry.
Questions? Comments? The CCS wants to hear from you! Contact Mission Viejo Contributing Editor Steve Magdziak at: (949) 441-0499.