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Top court to hear appeal filed by Pa. jury commissioners

Published August 30. 2012 05:03PM

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found probable jurisdiction to hear an appeal filed by the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners, according to the association's attorney, Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester.

"I received a notification from the supreme court," Stretton said. "The court has noted they will now enter a briefing schedule. I'm also going to ask for an oral argument on this important constitutional issue."

The Association of Jury Commissioners filed the appeal in connection with a new law that could abolish the election position of jury commissioners. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the constitutionality of the law by a 4-to-3 vote earlier this year.

"We are confident that the supreme court will overturn the decision," said Larry Thompson, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners. "The close vote by the Commonwealth Court judges proves there is a sharp division over the constitutionality of the law passed by the legislature."

Attorneys Stretton and David Cleaver, representing the jury commissioners, were authorized by the association's executive committee to pursue the appeal.

"An impartial jury is the backbone of our judicial system," Thompson said. "Having elected officials oversee the selection process is crucial to the appearance of fairness in the jury system. Having a person unaccountable to the voters to be in charge of making sure a jury is made up of the peers of the defendant and the community is asking for trouble and could undermine the integrity of the justice system in Pennsylvania."

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.

According to Thompson, the law now being reviewed by the state appellate court allows county commissioners to abolish the office of Jury Commissioner by a majority vote. He said the law is tantamount to the executive branch of government moving against and regulating the judicial branch and is a violation of separation of powers.

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