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Butler County rejects bid to ax jury commission system

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By Bill Vidonic
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Butler County Commissioners on Wednesday rejected a proposal to eliminate the jury commission system.

Commissioner A. Dale Pinkerton pushed for the elimination, saying court personnel could absorb the jury commissioners' duties and save about $65,000 a year.

“I still think we should do it,” Pinkerton said after Commissioners Bill McCarrier and James Eckstein defeated his proposal.

“This is not about money. This is about freedom, our judicial process, our integrity,” Eckstein said.

McCarrier believes the commissioners lack the power to eliminate an elected office, but that it should be done by referendum.

Jury Commissioners Clinton Bonetti, a Democrat, and Jon Galante, a Republican, are each paid $17,500 annually and receive $15,000 in benefits, according to the 2012 budget. The office is budgeted to spend $77,000 in 2012.

The commissioners are elected, though Galante was appointed in October to fill a vacancy and must seek election to keep the job.

Jury commissioners send questionnaires to potential jurors, but a computer randomly selects names for jury duty. The commissioners mail summons to people the computer selected.

In 2011, the state Legislature gave counties the power to eliminate jury commissioners, but the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners appealed to the state Supreme Court. A decision is pending.

“The act of empowering county commissioners with the authority to abolish an elected office of the people has no place in the arena of a free people,” said association President Larry Thompson, a former Butler County jury commissioner.

Commissioners also said they want to talk to President Judge Thomas Doerr about his order last week placing a sheriff's deputy in the commissioners' office.

Doerr signed the order after hearing of arguments in the commissioners' office and seeing public meetings grow more volatile. He said the order was not aimed at any commissioner in particular.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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