2013-01-30 / Local & State

Jury Commissioners Want Placed On All Primary Ballots

Some counties abolished office before Supreme Court ruling

The Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners filed a request with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week asking the commonwealth’s highest court to order counties to place the office of jury commissioner on this year’s primary ballot.

“Some of the counties in Pennsylvania have prematurely abolished the office of jury commissioner and eliminated the office from this year’s primary election,” said Larry Thompson, president of the Pennsylvania Association of jury commissioners. “The Supreme Court has not ruled on our association’s challenge to the law authorizing the elimination of our elected positions.”

The Supreme Court is reviewing a 4-3 decision by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that upheld a law that allows counties to vote to abolish the office of jury commissioner. The Supreme Court has not issued a decision on the matter, in fact, has not heard oral arguments in the case.

“We strongly believe that the Supreme Court will right this wrong and the highlyregarded office of jury commissioner will continue to be part of Pennsylvania’s judicial system,” Thompson said. “Without the Supreme Court ordering the office to be placed on the primary ballot, Pennsylvania taxpayers will be in a position of having to pay the bill to hold additional elections.”

The integrity of jury trials will be compromised if the law allowing for the abolishment of the position of jury commissioner is upheld, according to the legal brief filed by the association’s attorneys,

Samuel C. Stretton and David Cleaver.

“The issue should not be a matter of dollars and cents,” Thompson said. “Some believe doing away with our office, an agency that upholds the integrity of the jury system, might save them money. The issue centers on the legislative law violating the Constitution. Also, such action would remove the watchdogs elected by the people to oversee the fairness of the selection process of jurors. The idea behind this law is shortsighted.”

The protected right of a person to a fair and impartial jury will be compromised if the office of jury commissioner is abolished, according to the legal brief.

The jury commissioners’ association contends the law is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers. Jury commissioners are part of the judicial branch of government and thus the legislature has no authority to legislate its demise. The jury commissioners also contend the law violated the state’s single subject law. Under the law, the legislature is prohibited from bundling different laws into one bill for a vote.

In the dissenting opinion, Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini stated he sees no connection between selling excess farm equipment and the elimination of the office of jury commissioner. The two subjects were twinned in the legislation. “The majority opinion does not ‘encourage an open, deliberative, and accountable government,’” Pellegrini wrote.

The majority ruling legitimizes “logrolling” where proposed legislation without the required support to be made into law can become law by coupling it with proposals that have sufficient support, according to the minority opinion.

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