Plan to get rid of jury post hits snag
Plan to get rid of jury post hits snag BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
A recent state law allowing most Pennsylvania counties, including Lancaster, to eliminate the office of jury commissioner has been overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The law would have meant the end of the office here after current jury commissioners Debbie Frantz and Kathleen Harrison finish their term in December.
However, State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican who represents part of Lancaster County, said he plans to introduce legislation to try again to get rid of the office.
If legislative efforts are unsuccessful and the office here continues, it might be too late to get the names of candidates for the office listed on the May primary ballot. The names of candidates would be able to get listed on the November ballot.
Commissioner Scott Martin believes a bill will be passed by the Legislature allowing the county to eliminate the post.
Smucker said he hoped the legislation can be fast-tracked because it would be the same law the top court struck down -- with one exception.
In striking down the law, the Supreme Court said it violated the state constitution's single-subject rule. The law, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed in December 2011, also dealt with procedures for counties to sell personal and farm property.
In its opinion, the court acknowledged that laws can contain more than one subject if they are related.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania contended that eliminating jury commissioners and the auctions procedures were functions of county commissioners. But the Supreme Court ruled that selling property is an executive function, while abolishing jury commissioners is legislative.
The law "clearly, palpably, and plainly violates the single subject rule," Judge Max Baer wrote in the court's 6-0 decision.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners led the appeal. Larry Thompson, president of the association and a former Butler County jury commissioner, was pleased with the ruling.
Thompson contended that eliminating jury commissioners isn't about saving money. He said it's a move by the county commissioners association to consolidate power for commissioners.
"The true issue here is whether or not people have oversight of the process of juror selection in Pennsylvania," Thompson said last week.
Martin disputed Thompson's contentin.
"What power would we be getting when it is already being done by a computer?" he asked.
Frantz and Harrison were not part of the appeal. While they acknowledge the selection of jurors is computerized -- it's been so since the 1980s -- they said the office still has value.
On Monday morning at the county courthouse, where Frantz and Harrison checked in more than 100 jurors, Frantz said they are a "public-friendly face" of government for those people summoned for duty.
They also have to follow up with phone calls to those who don't show up for jury duty, of which there were plenty Monday morning. Frantz and Harrison figured the snow was to blame.
And they have the authority to excuse people from jury duty. Harrison said she's relied on her nursing background to make that call.
But if the office is going to be eliminated, Frantz said it should be done so constitutionally.
Randall Wenger, the chief clerk of the county Board of Elections, said he's notified the county's Republican and Democratic parties about how they can get candidates on the November ballot should it come to that. Parties would have to submit candidates by Sept. 16.
Harrison said he plans to run again.
nState supreme court strikes down law allowing counties to eliminate jury commissioner positions. State senator hopes to pass new law.