2010-08-12 / Local & State

2 Elected County Posts Could Be State- Appointed

POTTSVILLE, Pa. (AP) – A proposal being discussed in Pennsylvania would put two county offices under the authority of the state court system and have officials appointed rather than elected.

Under the proposal, the state’s Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, under the authority of the state Supreme Court, would assume oversight of clerks of courts and prothonotaries across the commonwealth. Clerks of courts manage records for criminal cases while prothonotaries handle civil cases and passport applications.

“We would be removed from the electoral process. There would be no more politics involved,’’ Schuylkill County Clerk of Courts Stephen M. Lukach told the Republican & Herald last week. “They’re telling us they would like to see this done sooner rather than later.’’

Lukach said he and other clerks of courts from across the state were briefed on the proposal last month by Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who presented the results of a study commissioned by the administrative office of courts on the issue.

Deputy State Court Administrator Tom Darr said the study produced five options, with the office controlling just the county clerk of courts and prothonotary, or the officeholder and first deputy, or everybody in both offices, or the offices along with all secretaries and clerks working for the Court of Common Pleas, or all of the above.

Lukach said support has steadily built behind the second option. He said little would change as far as dayto day operations in either office, but the officeholder and the first deputy would work for the administrative office rather than the county – with the goal being uniformity across the state.

The change would have to be approved by the state Legislature, although it is unclear whether it would also require a constitutional amendment.

“That is one of the issues we’re studying,’’ Darr said. “The devil is in the details.’’

Darr said the report is still in draft form and unavailable to the public. Lukach said it was unclear who would appoint the positions, the administrative office or each county’s president judge.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania supports the idea, but Deputy Director Brinda Carroll Penyak said there are many unanswered questions.

“As I understand it, the study’s done, under review, a number of options proposed, no indication of which direction they’re headed or when/whether they’ll announce,’’ Penyak said in an e-mail to the paper.

State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider any legislation on the issue, said he supports the concept of a state takeover, but also envisions a day when both offices are eliminated.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just have clerks (under the court administrator) doing these jobs?’’ he told the paper. “But there are so many political row offices ... that isn’t going to be an easy lift. Except for the sheriff, the DA (district attorney) and the treasurer –all those other offices could be eliminated. But if you want to touch that fuse, you’ll get all kinds of pushback.’’

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