THE PREVIOUSLY EMPANELED Alameda County Civil Grand Jury was in disarray and was unable to complete two investigations before it ended its work this year. 

The turmoil began last year when the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office under former District Attorney Nancy O’Malley withdrew its usual assistance for the jury for an investigation into the District Attorney’s Office, according to the final report by the jury.

The District Attorney’s Office withdrew its support because it said the jury’s investigation caused a conflict of interest with the office. The Alameda County Counsel’s office stepped in to provide legal support for the investigation.      

Then, when District Attorney Pamela Price took office in January, her office withdrew support for all investigations by the jury. Price’s office said it had a conflict of interest but did not elaborate.  

“We don’t know why it happened,” said Torin Fischer, the foreperson for the previously empaneled grand jury. “I’m not going to speculate. It did cause some frustration.”

Investigations nearly stopped altogether when the support was withdrawn, according to the jury’s final report, which provides the details of the investigations it completed during its 12-month term. 

“We were not able to progress as we would have liked.”

Torin Fischer, Alameda County Civil Grand Jury

Jurists had to format, design and produce that final report because the District Attorney’s Office never replaced the support last term. 

“We were not able to progress as we would have liked,” Fischer said.

Civil grand juries in each of California’s counties investigate local governments to hold them accountable for working in the best interests of citizens. Last term, the civil grand jury in Alameda County investigated Oakland’s 911 system, and among other things, the misuse of information technology in the 2018 election cycle.

Details of each probe can be found at

Alameda County Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles Smiley eventually secured legal support for the grand jury, but it was without it for about two months. 

The legal support came from outside of Alameda County, Fischer said. 

The Civil Grand Jury seats 19 members for a one-year term, which for Fischer and his 18 colleagues was up June 28. A new jury has been empaneled, Fischer and a court spokesperson confirmed. 

“The office was in constant turmoil.”

Torin Fischer, Alameda County Civil Grand Jury

The District Attorney’s Office early last month restored legal and procedural support to the grand jury when the new one was empaneled, according to the office. 

The conflict of interest cited by the District Attorney’s Office was related only to the previously empaneled grand jury, Fischer believes.    

Janet Clark, who is with the Alameda County unit of the California Grand Jurors’ Association, which checks whether local governments make reforms following a jury report, said she was “very much unhappily aware” when asked whether she knew what happened last term.

“The office was in constant turmoil,” she said.

But Clark was pleased with the work the jury did last term, she said. 

“We applaud the actual reports that were generated,” Clark said. 

It’s unclear whether the new grand jury will finish the other investigation that the previous jury did not. Investigations are kept secret until they are complete. 

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.