Supreme Court to jury commissioners: Don’t file

February 14, 2013

Six months after the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners appealed a Commonwealth Court decision that upheld a state law effectively abolishing the elected office, the state Supreme Court ordered that candidates should not file nominating petitions.

But the state’s highest court also scheduled the case for argument next month, focusing on two issues: whether “bundling” the legislation with other topics violated the single-subject requirement of the state constitution, and if the law violates the separation of powers in branches of state government.

Richard Zimmerman, Washington County Republican jury commissioner, is one of the appellants in the case.

He hadn’t yet picked up nominating petitions in advance of Tuesday, the first day for circulating and filing.

“I’m not going to file a petition if I don’t have a job,” Zimmerman said Thursday, noting that petitioner filers are required to pay a fee.

“I think the thing should’ve been resolved long before now,” Zimmerman said. “We lost by one vote in Commonwealth Court. We’ll just have to wait and see, that’s all I know.”

The Supreme Court, which did not set a specific date for argument, also said Wednesday that it will examine whether Commonwealth Court erred in providing county commissioners additional powers, when the powers of the jury commissioners are found in the Judicial Code.

“This sounds like the Supreme Court is being selective,” said Larry Spahr, Washington County elections director. “They had to move on this prior to petition circulation.”

Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation into law in December 2011 giving smaller counties the right to abolish the part-time office of jury commissioner.

Washington County commissioners took that action a year ago, while Greene County commissioners voted in December to abolish the office.

To do away with jury-rigging, the state Legislature created the office of jury commissioner 140 years ago, assigning the duties to elected officials from majority and minority political parties.

Computer databases now provide lists of potential jurors, and Washington County has estimated that abolishing the positions, which pay $17,103 plus benefits, will save taxpayers about $80,000 a year.

Larger counties have had the option of abolishing the office for several years, and Allegheny County, for example, no longer has jury commissioners.

Zimmerman’s counterpart in Washington County is Judith Fisher. Both said last month they planned to run, barring any Supreme Court decision. In Greene County, Republican Rosalind Laur did not plan to run, while Democrat Lynn Leathers could not be reached for comment.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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