The office of jury commissioner will not be on the May 21 primary election ballot. Instead, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, each political party will decide which candidates for the office will appear on the general election ballots in November. Counties that still have jury commissioners must have one from each party.
The April 17 ruling is the latest ripple from a March 14 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 2011 state law that had allowed counties to drop the offices. That law, Act 108, was thrown out because, the Supreme Court ruled, it violated a provision in the Pennsylvania constitution which forbids lawmakers from tacking unrelated issues onto bills.
After the court overturned Act 108, the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners asked it to establish a quick method of getting candidates' names on the primary election ballot. The court cited the difficulty of doing that in its April 17 response ruling.
But even as the court was pondering its response, state senators were crafting an amendment that would once again allow counties to abolish the job of jury commissioners.
On April 16, the Senate by a 38-12 vote approved a bill that would allow counties to drop the office. Sen. David G. Argall and Sen. John Yudichak voted in favor of the proposed legislation. The proposed bill immediately went to the House, where it was referred to the Local Government Committee. It is on the House calendar for today's session.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has argued that the office of jury commissioners is outdated in light of technological change jury selection is now largely computerized.
After Act 108 was passed, 42 of the counties that still had jury commissioners opted to eliminate the offices.
On May 12, 2012, Carbon County commissioners had voted to abolish the office by Jan. 1, 2014, after the county's two jury commissioners, Democrat Joanne M. Maurer and Republican Joe Steber, finished their terms. The move was expected to save the county more $20,000 a year.
Schuylkill County commissioners on May 2, 2012, also agreed to abolish the office after Republican Peggy Zimmerman and Democrat Ed Kleha finished their terms. The move was expected to save the county about $26,000 a year.
In light of the pending legislation, SB 808, approved by state senators last Thursday, the office of jury commissioner is once again on the chopping block in many counties.
Carbon County Commissioners Chairman Wayne Nothstein, who believes the office is no longer necessary, weighed in on the latest ruling. If the law is passed, he said, Carbon would again move to abolish the office.
"There is overwhelming support by county commissioners in general who would like to eliminate the position. The (proposed) bill says it is up to the county commissioners who may wish to do so. There are counties which would like to keep them, which is fine with me, but give me that opportunity," he said.
"I feel there is no longer a need to have jury commissioners, since they are computer picked, and the notices are mailed by a current county employee at no extra cost to the county. This action (abolishing the office) would save over $20,000 a year," Nothstein said.