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Pa. Jury commissioners to fight state decision

Published May 23. 2013 05:03PM

Just 16 days after Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Act 4, which allows county commissioners to abolish the office of jury commissioner, the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners on Wednesday asked Commonwealth Court to declare the law unconstitutional and halt its enforcement.

A hearing is scheduled for May 31 on the matter.

"We fought and won this battle in court earlier this year and we will fight and win again," said Larry Thompson, President of the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners. "This is the second attempt by the Legislature to take unconstitutional action to eliminate an elected office that protects the public and ensures the integrity of our legal system."

Carbon County commissioners on May 16 agreed to abolish the office after the current jury commissioners finish their terms in office, saying it would save the county about $20,000 a year. Schuylkill County commissioners also made that move.

Attorney Samuel Stretton filed the petition on behalf of the Association of Jury Commissioners.

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

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. Both Carbon and Schuylkill were among there 42 counties that abolished the office.

However, the Association of Jury commissioners challenged the law in 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.

But state lawmakers wasted no time in crafting Senate Bill 808, this time as a stand-alone law allowing counties to drop the office. Corbett signed the bill into law on May 6. Schuylkill County commissioners moved to abolish the office of jury commissioner on May 15; Carbon commissioners followed suit on May 16.

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