Plaintiff, Gillett-Harris-Duranceau & Associates, Inc., appeals from a judgment of dismissal entered after a demurrer to its second amended complaint was sustained without leave to amend.
Plaintiff's second amended complaint named, as defendants, 19 individuals who served on the Lake County Grand Jury during the fiscal year 1974-1975. It was alleged therein that plaintiff was a firm which provided engineering, land surveying and architectural services, and that in 1970, it began contracting to furnish such services to the County of Lake and to certain special districts within said county. Plaintiff alleged that on August 8, 1975, defendants had filed a public report entitled "Final Report of the Grand Jury — 1975," with the Lake County Clerk, and that said report contained the statement that plaintiff had been negligent, incompetent and wrong in the performance of its duties. Allegedly, such statement was untrue, was known by defendants to be untrue, was made with the intent to convey defamatory meaning, and did, in fact, bring plaintiff into public disgrace and disrepute and injure plaintiff in its profession. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that the grand jury had returned no indictment against plaintiff or any of its employees or agents or against any elected or appointed officers of the County of Lake. Plaintiff sought to recover compensatory damages for defamation and interference with prospective business advantage. Exemplary damages were also sought on the theory that defendants had acted maliciously in making the defamatory statement concerning plaintiff.
In sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend, the trial court concluded that a grand jury was a judicial body which was entitled to be as fully protected in the exercise of its powers and functions as the courts themselves and that, like the courts, the grand jury was therefore entitled
Plaintiff's appeal presents two issues: (1) whether section 930 of the Penal Code is applicable in this instance, and (2) whether said statute, if applicable, is constitutional.
Section 930 of the Penal Code
Former section 928 was later amended, on various occasions,
At the time of the grand jury report here in issue, section 930 read as follows: "If any grand jury shall, in the report above mentioned, comment upon any person or official who has not been indicted by such grand jury such comments shall not be deemed to be privileged." (Italics added.)
Section 930 was immediately preceded by section 929,
The alleged defamatory statement upon which the action is based was contained in a report rendered by the "Special Districts Committee" of
Plaintiff asserts that there is no logical reason why the Legislature would have intended that a grand jury report on county officers not be privileged, while a report on special districts would be privileged. They point out that, as a matter of practice, grand juries do not separate special districts reports from reports on county officials; rather, that the normal practice, which was followed in this case, is to render a single report dealing with both subjects. Plaintiff argues that since the Legislature has imposed no requirement that grand juries separate special district reports from reports on county officers, it may be presumed that the Legislature approved of the preparation of a single report and that the reference to "the report above mentioned" in section 930 should be interpreted as referring to a report by the grand jury on the subject of special districts as well as county officers.
On the other hand, there is abundant authority for the proposition that the literal construction of a statute will not prevail if it is opposed to legislative objective. (Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. Morse (1970) 6 Cal.App.3d 707, 712 [86 Cal.Rptr. 7].) The fundamental rule of statutory construction is that the court should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law, and every statute should be construed with reference to the whole system of law of which it is a part so that all may be harmonized and have effect. (Cannon v. American Hydrocarbon Corp. (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 639, 648 [84 Cal.Rptr. 575].) Words will not be given their literal meaning when to do so would make the provisions of a statute apply to transactions never contemplated by the Legislature, and to this end, the intent of a law must be held to prevail over the letter. (LaBorde v. McKesson & Robbins, Inc. (1968) 264 Cal.App.2d 363, 370 [70 Cal.Rptr. 726].)
Here, the language of section 930 renders it applicable only to "the report above mentioned." The statutes preceding section 930 make no mention of reports concerning special districts; they refer only to reports on county officers. We agree, however, with plaintiff's assertion that it is difficult to conceive of any valid legislative objective which would be furthered by eliminating the grand jury's privilege in connection with reports concerning county officers while preserving such privilege as to reports which concern special districts within the county. We conclude that the provisions of section 930 apply both to grand jury reports on county officers and reports on special districts.
The question remaining is whether the provisions of section 930 constitute an unconstitutional impairment of the judicial privilege. Defendants remind us that article III, section 3, of the California Constitution divides the state government into legislative, executive and judicial departments, and that it has long been settled that the Legislature cannot exercise or place limitations upon judicial powers. Thus, in Oppenheimer v. Ashburn (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 624 [343 P.2d 931], the appellate court held invalid a section of the Penal Code which provided for the imposition of a fine upon a judge who refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus after a proper application therefor had been made. In so holding, the court observed that the decisions of this state uniformly and
Defendants also rely upon section 47, subdivision 2, of the Civil Code, which provides that a privileged publication or broadcast is one made in any judicial proceeding. They note that in Irwin v. Murphy (1933) 129 Cal.App. 713 [19 P.2d 292], it was held that a grand jury is a judicial body and grand jurors are officers of the court (p. 716), and that statements impugning the integrity of the plaintiff as a boxing referee were privileged where pertinent to the matters or persons under investigation (p. 718).
Plaintiff points out that the only reference to the grand jury in the California Constitution concerns the indicting function of that body and provides for the annual summoning of grand jurors. (Cal. Const., art. I, §§ 14, 23.)
In Fitts v. Superior Court (1936) 6 Cal.2d 230, 241 [57 P.2d 510], the California Supreme Court held that, by failing to make any further provision regarding the grand jury, the constitutional convention of 1879 left to the Legislature all questions affecting the grand jury not expressly covered by the Constitution.
The cases relied upon by defendants, namely, Turpen v. Booth, supra, 56 Cal. 65, and Irwin v. Murphy, supra, 129 Cal.App. 713, are readily
The judgment of dismissal is reversed.
Taylor, P.J., and Kane, J., concurred.
Respondents' petition for a hearing by the Supreme Court was denied October 12, 1978.
"It shall be the duty of every grand jury first impaneled in even-numbered years to investigate, upon request to grant personal interviews to the officials concerned, and to report upon the needs for increase or decrease in salaries of the county supervisors, the district attorney and the auditor, and it shall cause a copy of such report to be transmitted to each Member of the Legislature representing the county in which it has been impaneled before the commencement of the regular session of the Legislature in odd-numbered years. It shall also be the duty of every grand jury to investigate and report upon the needs of all county officers in its county, including the abolition or creation of offices and the equipment for, or the method or system of performing the duties of, the several offices, and it shall cause a copy of such report to be transmitted to each member of the board of supervisors in its county.
"It shall be the duty of the grand jury, when making an examination of the books, records, and accounts of all the officers of the county and when investigating and reporting upon the needs of all county officers in its county, to include an examination and report upon all the books, records, and accounts of all the officers of such county which are kept in their ex officio capacity, as incumbents or officers of any special legislative district or other district created by or under the laws of the State of California, in their respective counties.
"The judge, on impanelment of the grand jury, shall charge them especially as to their duties under this section; provided, that if any grand jury shall, in the report above mentioned, comment upon any person or official who has not been indicted by the said grand jury the said comments shall not be deemed to be privileged.
"Any and all expenses incurred under this section, and also the per diem and mileage where allowed by law, of the grand jurors, shall be paid by the treasurer of the county out of the general fund of said county upon warrants drawn by the county auditor upon the written order of the judge of the superior court in said county." (Stats. 1957, ch. 1364, § 1, p. 2699.)