Grand jury mystery

Employees say they’ve been targeted after complaining about favor-trading and harassment

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the September 6, 2018, issue.

Earlier this summer, the Sacramento County Grand Jury issued its 2017-18 report. One conspicuous absence from it: anything relating to the county assessor’s office, despite two staffers talking to the grand jury.

“It was an investigation,” said Vicki Korsak, a real property appraiser for the assessor’s office. “We were spoken to. We did go in.”

Korsak is one of five employees who’s come forward in recent years with numerous allegations of malfeasance, including that top brass benefited from artificially lower appraisals on their properties. (Read “Assessed damages,” News, May 31, 2018.)

The Sacramento Bee reported in May that Assessor Christina Wynn, who didn’t respond to an interview request for this story, “was interviewed” about the allegations Korsak and others made. A county-commissioned investigation dismissed most of the allegations on May 25, though that wouldn’t have precluded grand jury findings. Section 933(a) of the California Penal Code directs each grand jury to “submit to the presiding judge of the superior court a final report of its findings and recommendations that pertain to county government matters.”

Richard Turner, foreman for the 2017-18 grand jury, said he couldn’t confirm or deny whether the assessor’s office had been investigated. State law makes it a misdemeanor for grand jury members to disclose specifics of their work beyond their report, though grand jury witnesses can legally speak publicly of information they provided.

In general terms, Turner said subcommittees can do some preliminary work and interviews before the entire grand jury votes to launch a full investigation. At least 12 of the grand jury’s 19 members must vote yes for the group to move forward.

“The grand jury doesn’t just take one piece of information at face value,” Turner said.

Another 2017-18 grand jury member, Suzanne Baxter, said the group’s meant to be a watchdog.

“My feeling is if the public doesn’t learn what we’ve done all year, that’s kind of too bad,” Baxter said.