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Jury commissioners take new law to court

Published June 11. 2013 05:02PM

Commonwealth Court on Friday denied a request by the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners to block county commissioners from abolishing the offices of jury commissioners.

The organization on May 22 had asked the court to declare a new law allowing counties to drop the offices unconstitutional, and to halt its enforcement.

The law, Act 4, was signed by Gov. Tom Corbett on May 6.

Ten days later, Carbon County commissioners agreed to abolish the office after the current jury commissioners finish their terms in office. Commissioners in both Carbon and Schuylkill counties have said dropping the offices would save them about $20,000 a year. Schuylkill commissioners have also moved to abolish the offices.

The court ruling, handed down by Judge P. Kevin Brobson, was expected, said Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners president Larry Thompson.

"While disappointing, Judge Brobson's decision was not totally unexpected. In July 2012, this same judge penned the majority opinion of the Commonwealth Court denying our constitutional challenge to PA Act 108 of 2011. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on March 14 of this year, reversed Judge Brobson's 2011 majority opinion and declared PA Act 108 of 2011 unconstitutional," he said.

The organization plans to appeal.

"This is all going to end up in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court," said Thompson. "Commonwealth Court is a mere weigh station on our second journey through the appellant courts," Thompson said.

The move to abolish the office has been wending its way through the courts and legislature for years.

Each county has two jury commissioners, one Democrat, the other Republican. Their job is to supervise the selection of people to serve on juries. However, many officials believe that the office is outmoded in light of current technology: juries are now chosen by a computerized system that selects jurors by driver's license.

In 2011, state lawmakers approved legislation that allowed county commissioners to do away with the office once current jury commissioners reached the ends of their terms for most, that would be Dec. 31, 2013. Both Carbon and Schuylkill counties were among the 42 that abolished the office.

The jury commissioners' association appealed the law to the state Supreme Court, arguing that it violated the state constitution, which bars legislators from tacking unrelated additions onto bills.

On March 14, 2013, the court ruled in the association's favor. Legislators responded by quickly drafting new legislation, a stand-alone law allowing counties to drop the office. That was the bill Corbett signed into law last month.

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