Pa. high court says why it upheld jury panel law
HARRISBURG — The Legislature did not violate the separation of powers doctrine this year when it passed a law letting counties abolish their elected jury commissioners, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Friday.
The six-justice majority laid out its reasoning in an opinion issued a month after it announced that the law passed in April was constitutional. The court said the commissioners are county positions, not judicial officers, so lawmakers did not infringe on the judicial branch.
“The fact that the elected jury commissioners cooperate, by statute, with the president judge (or another county judge temporarily) does not convert the nature of the office,” Justice Correale Stevens wrote. “Our organic law does not evolve in such a fashion.”
In a one-judge dissenting opinion, Justice Debra Todd said that because state laws that address how to select jurors envision the two commissioners joined by the president judge, doing away with them means counties would be able to adopt a variety of approaches.
The law “raises the specter of a proliferation of divergent, and possibly inadequate, jury selection methods among the counties which have abolished the office,” Todd wrote. “The impact such a balkanization of the jury selection process would have on the conduct of civil and criminal trials, and on judicial administration, should be a matter of profound concern to our court.”
Todd said she would have preferred the court either overturn the law or issue new rules about how to pick jurors.
Sam Stretton, who represents the jury commissioners and their association, said the decision indicated to him that most members of the court do not realize the important role the jury panels play in maintaining the integrity of the court system.
“If it isn't a judicial office, then why is the judiciary taking it over?” Stretton said. “That doesn't make any sense to me.”
The Legislature in 2011 permitted most counties to do away with their elected jury commissioners, but several jury commissioners and their state association sued to challenge that. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sided with them and threw out that law on the grounds that it was included in legislation that addressed other issues, thereby violating the state constitution's single-subject requirement for laws.
By that time, dozens of counties had moved to do away with their elected commissioners, whose duties include developing procedures to pick jury lists, making sure jury panels are selected fairly and managing the large pools of people called for jury duty.
Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said 42 or 43 counties have eliminated the elected jury commissioners. None of them has adopted jury selection rules that deviate from the law that governs jury commission, said Hill, whose organization was allowed to intervene in the case.
The General Assembly moved quickly to enact a law, which again triggered a challenge by the jury commissioners' association.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Veteran designation on Pennsylvania driver’s licenses loosely audited
- Pa. trooper wounded in barracks ambush hopes to return to force
- Trooper severely injured when hit by own car
- Impact of Ohio’s moves to reduce Lake Erie algae years away
- PennDOT turns to roundabout intersections, citing safety, cost
- Denver Botanic Gardens boosts attendance
- West Virginia firm paying $245K for damaging historic bridge
- EQT subcontractor to pay to repair Greene County bridge
- ‘Repulsed’ Penn State president to study Greek activities
- Ex-prosecutor, alum becomes Grove City College president
- PSU president will back tuition freeze if Wolf’s funding plan passes