Opinion: Harassment among El Dorado County grand jurors

By Ryan Donner

I served as a member of the 2011-12 El Dorado County Grand Jury and began serving a second term on the 2012-13 El Dorado County Grand Jury.

Judge Stephen Bailey was the supervising judge during both of these jury sessions. At the end of the 2011-12 jury session, the presentation of a report on one of our investigations met with court censorship. I was very vocal regarding my opinion that the report should be issued as originally written.

It became apparent to me early in my second term that the foreman, Ray Van Asten, was not following proper jury protocol (Robert’s Rules of Order/Parliamentary Procedure) in conducting meetings and conducting votes on organizational activities within the full body of the jury. Further, he failed to appoint a pro tem or a secretary prior to statewide training meetings.

Each week Van Asten would appoint a member of the body to take meeting minutes which were then submitted to him. Upon our next full body meeting we would occasionally discover that votes taken or committees formed during the previous meeting had been changed in the meeting minutes and Van Asten would assert that the vote was invalid as a result of how the discussion was categorized, or he would deny any recollection of what had transpired with respect to the discrepancies.

I was very vocal about these breaches of protocol during the meetings, often stopping the proceedings to identify that procedure had not been followed. I was also vocal about the seemingly altered meeting minutes and the impropriety of not selecting officers prior to training meetings that would give those officers a guideline for managing oversight in the full body. As a result of my outspokenness, Van Asten became frustrated with me and began loudly contesting anything I had to say, ignoring me during discussions, and asking me to step back from commenting at all. A pattern of harassment began to develop.

Becoming more and more frustrated about the way the foreman was treating me, and about the breaches of protocol which I felt bordered on illegality, I made a complaint of harassment to El Dorado County Human Resources and was told that they had no purveyance over the jury body and suggested I contact the Superior Court instead. I was told by the court that Human Resources was the county’s responsibility, and that in any case, grand jurors were volunteers and really had no standing from an HR perspective.

Nevertheless, I then took my complaint to the district attorney, Vern Pierson. He listened to my complaint and told me he would look into it.

Within two weeks of my complaint, I received an email from Judge Bailey’s clerk requesting that I meet at the judge’s office with the judge. No explanation for the meeting was given, and I received no physical/formal written notice of the meeting. Upon arriving at the meeting I was told that it had been moved from the judge’s office to his courtroom. Present in the courtroom were the judge, Van Asten, the clerk, a court stenographer, and a sheriff’s bailiff. What ensued was not a meeting, but rather a hearing, during which I was essentially threatened with contempt of court unless I “got along” with Van Asten in the grand jury meetings (Here are the GrandJuryLogo court transcripts.) I took this to mean that I should simply do what Van Asten told me, period. During a previous term as grand jury foreman, Van Asten also acted to have a juror with whom he disagreed removed.

Now understanding that my attempts to establish order during meetings was simply not going to be allowed, and suffering increasing harassment from Van Asten (threatening emails, public humiliation during meetings, etc.), I decided that my best course of action was to resign from the jury to avoid a kangaroo court issuing a contempt order against me for doing my job as a grand jury member – identifying oversight, even amongst the full body itself.

It is my belief that the problems I experienced during the early months of this grand jury continued even after my departure, and that the result was an unprecedented dissolution of a civil grand jury in El Dorado County prior to the completion of their term, and without issuing a single investigative report, even on the state mandated inspections of detention facilities in the county.

Ryan Donner is a resident of El Dorado County.


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Comments (12)
  1. concerned says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    makes you wonder what is going on

  2. Dude says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    This article should be kept on the front page for more than a couple of hours. These are serious allegations of misconduct.

  3. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    I would like to thank Mr. Donner for presenting this Opinion piece. I believe the Grand Jury has the opportunity to operate with too much autonomy and therefore caution the public who would like to believe that Grand Jury findings and recommendations are the be-all, end-all accurate truths by a watchdog group that biases can and likely do exist and have far-reaching consequences.

  4. Ted Long says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    As the foremen of the prior Grand Jury I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Ryan and I can say with certainty that his commitment to the work was outstanding, his integrity beyond question and his willing to work with others was exemplary. In other words you should listen to this guy.
    While I have written that the basic structure of the Grand Jury needs improvement I in no way want to take away from the hard and dedicated work of its members and even without the influence I feel it should have it should not be a vehicle of or a political football.

  5. Steve says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    The question that begs an answer, why is the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court allowing these shenanigans to occur under his or her oversight?

  6. concerned says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    A few years back there was illegal activaty, deceit, collusion, dishonesty and wholesale dismissal of grand jurors. The foreperson was also attempting to become the court officer and other shenanigans.
    The elected official went along with all this nonsense and in fact seemed to encourage it. If only one person can communicate with the judge, there is the possiblility of biasness and favoritism.
    The grand jury can do so much good but is usually stopped by the respondents in replying to the findings and recommendations with weasal words and excuses. The county and city attorneys are masters at it, which is their job, along with other officials
    If at least half the jurors served two terms it would greatly improve the quality of the investigations and reports.
    The best to the current GJ. Please serve the interests of the citizens of El Dorado County.

  7. Eileen Pope says - Posted: March 25, 2013

    I agree with Ryan’s comments. I also wholeheatedly concur with Ted Long’s comments regarding Ryan’s commitment, integrity and honesty .

    Based on my service on the 2011-12 grand jury, I fully support Ryan and Ted’s statements. It is also my opinion, based on my service, that there have been serious issues regarding potential judicial misconduct and/or manipulations. In my opinion Judge Bailey should have recused himself due to potential conflicts of interest. These repeated allegations of miss conduct should go to the State Attorney General for a fair and thourough investigation

  8. Alex Campbell says - Posted: March 26, 2013

    No Comment at this time. Sorry

  9. Digital Content says - Posted: March 26, 2013

    The government(s) and quasi government groups (Including the County Chamber of Commerce) has betrayed the citizens of El Dorado County and South Lake Tahoe too.

    Progressives to the extreme!

    The crony capitalism that evolved over the past 20-25 years is a cancer to your future… Government control in many ways worse off than a third world country.

    yawn… who cares?

    Ignorance is bliss, then you get this.

  10. Informed says - Posted: March 27, 2013

    While I agree that Ryan was great to work with, Ryan left the grand jury early in the term, therefore missing all the events that took place which led the majority of the Grand Jury to resign. I can not stress enough that the resignation had absolutely nothing to do with the performance of Ray Van Asten. Quite the contrary. He was a fantastic leader. My greatest sadness over this whole thing is that the truth has to be kept secret and we’re unable to show the public what a great job Ray did in the situation, and throughout the year. Ryan had a different view of things…I wish he’d stayed longer so that he’d have been able to stand beside Ray right now, rather than to be misguided in his attempt to “expose” Ray for misconduct. He’s barking up the wrong tree.

  11. Alex Campbell says - Posted: March 27, 2013

    Informed or informer ? There is a history of Judges and
    Supes,their appointees aligned to prevent a reocurrence of the 94/95 Grand Jury report.
    Add the appointment of Hal Barker as foreman of the 95/96 GJ and a CREAM PUFF REPORT.

  12. Informed says - Posted: March 28, 2013

    Please take note of the fact that Ray Van Asten resigned voluntarily, and 13 other people followed suit. That fact speaks volumes in itself. Ryan was a good grand jurer in his previous term, but if truth be told, he was very combative against Ray. Anyone who knows Ryan knows he’s no shrinking violet. He dished out a lot of drama, and was equal in his “harassment” of Ray. Ray could write the above letter about Ryan. They simply didn’t mesh well. Ryan’s grudge against Ray was loud and dramatic, and caused a great deal of stress for the other members of the Grand Jury. If he pursues more media or legal attention to his “treatment” while on the Grand Jury, he’s not going to find a lot of support from the people who worked with him in this years jury. And the person suggested to be a mole in the original post will get ZERO support. Both made the Grand Jury difficult to be on, to the point people resigned. The truth will come out eventually, and it will be an eye roller. It sadly won’t be in Ryan’s favor.