2012-04-12 / Local & State

Commonwealth Court To Hear Suit Against HB 1644


In January, the PA State Association of Jury Commissioners filed suit in Commonwealth Court opposing the empowerment of county commissioners to abolish the elected office of jury commissioner with a simple majority vote. This authority was vested in the county commissioners by HB 1644 signed by Governor Corbett in December 2011.

Larry A. Thompson, Republican jury commissioner in Butler County and president of the PA State Association of Jury Commissioners, has announced that full legal arguments on the petition filed by the jury commissioners will be heard by the Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh on April 18, 2012, at 9:30 a.m.

An initial hearing on the jury commissioner’s petition was held in Harrisburg on February 16. Since then, PA Attorney General Linda Kelly and Gov. Tom Corbett have dropped their preliminary objections to the petition. Both were named as defendants by the jury commissioners in January. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) has also dropped its preliminary objections. CCAP was not named as a defendant in January, but had filed an amicus brief in Commonwealth Court in support of HB 1644 and the county commissioners.

“From the beginning, defendants and their allies have called for the court to dismiss our petition on its face. This position seems to be eroding,” Thompson states.

The jury commissioners contend that HB 1644 is in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution in that it violates the single subject requirement (Article III, Section 3); as well as the Separation of Powers Doctrine and the Unified Judicial System, pursuant to Article V, Sections 1 and 10.

According to a reply brief filed with the court in March by Samuel Stretton, lead counsel for the jury commissioners, HB 1644 violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “ ... it (HB 1644) is too vague and it does not create any standards for another system to replace the jury commissioners and the jury selection and summoning process and does not abolish other Pennsylvania statutes that allow only jury commissioners the right to select, summon and excuse potential jurors.”

“We are a commonwealth and nation of laws,” says Thompson. “Existing law states that jury commissioners have sole proprietary authority to select, summon and excuse potential jurors. We do not intend to stand idly by and allow for the arbitrary and summary abolishment of an elected office of the people by a simple majority vote of the county commissioners.”

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