Dismissing jury commissioners was a mistake

March 16, 2014

I read the Observer-Reporter editorial, “Returning to one-man bench in Greene County,” last Monday. As one of the last part-time jury commissioners in Washington County, having served for 20 years, I was surprised to see that the editorial left out that when Farley Toothman becomes the lone judge and president judge in Greene, he will also, according to law, be the only member of what previously was a three-person jury commission.

Two elected part-time jury commissioners used to serve in this capacity along with the president judge before the commissioners of some counties, including Greene, abolished the elected position. Toothman will also have to find the time to become involved in the selection process for jury pools in his one and only operating courtroom in Greene County.

Washington County’s commissioners would have everyone believe a computer can perform jury selection and having two jury commissioners elected by the people is no longer necessary. All the computer can do is give out names and addresses from various lists of citizens that were originally scanned into the computer by human beings in the first place. A computer is nothing more then a file cabinet that stores individual files. It cannot go through and read with human logic the required completed questionnaires that are mailed back from thousands of potential jurors across the county. The computer cannot make a decision to qualify, defer or excuse a juror for various reasons. A computer cannot track down a person that does not respond to a summons to serve on a jury, nor can it directly answer any questions asked by people that have received a summons to serve. The computer does not know who on the list is now deceased, institutionalized or hospitalized.

A computer cannot guarantee that our judicial system is operating within the highest standard of integrity through offering our citizenry a fair and impartial jury of their peers.

The decision to allow county commissioners to dismiss or to retain our jury commissioners was voted into law by our representatives in Harrisburg. As they attempted to rush their bill into law, they publicly demonstrated ignorance through errors in either the writing or the interpretation of the law. It was like witnessing a three-ring circus.

It did not surprise me that they felt the need in Harrisburg to suddenly dismantle the jury pool selection process that has been in place, trusted and working fine for our citizens and justice system for decades. As it is written, a lone judge can sit as the sole member on the Jury Commission during the selection process of all courtroom jury pools, including his own courtroom, without anyone elected by the people to represent them and watch over the judges’ shoulder.

I am very sure many of our representatives and county commissioners should be replaced, and not by computers. Having knowledge of the wording of our state constitution would be a huge plus.

Judith L. Fisher


Editor’s note: Fisher is a former Washington Country jury commissioner.


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