PA top court to hear jury commish case

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear an appeal filed by the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners, which is challenging a law signed late last year that gives counties the option of abolishing the office of jury commissioner.


The state Supreme Court will set a briefing schedule for the case, in which Richard Zimmerman of North Strabane Township, Washington County’s Republican jury commissioner, is a litigant.


“I’m also going to ask for an oral argument on this important constitutional issue,” said the association’s attorney, Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, Chester County, in a news release.


The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the constitutionality of the law by a 4-3 vote earlier this summer.


Larry Thompson, President of the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners, said he thinks the close vote by the Commonwealth Court judges proves there is a sharp division over the constitutionality of the law passed by the Legislature.


If the law stands, Zimmerman and Democratic Jury Commissioner Judith Fisher would be out of their part-time jobs at the end of their current terms in 2013.


Washington County commissioners voted in February to do away with the positions, which pay $16,121 annually, plus benefits. The county estimates the action will save $80,000 by 2014.


The jury commissioners’ association contends the law is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers, calling jury commissioners part of the judicial branch of government and maintaining 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.


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 simple 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.


Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi said Thursday, “We figured that was going to be appealed. I don’t think there’s any merit to it. We have been given that right by the Legislature. It’s been done in other counties. We’re trying to reduce the size of government and save tax dollars.”


Maggi said selection of a jury pool can be done by a computer program choosing names from databases.


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