Confusion after Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturns vote to eliminate jury commissioner positions

Posted: April 05, 2013

A state Supreme Court decision overturning a 2011 law that permitted counties to abolish the post of jury commissioner, an elected position that oversees jury selection, has sown confusion ahead of the fall elections.

The problem: Counties that had planned to abolish the posts after the current commissioners' terms expired this year found they had no candidates filed to run for the suddenly available positions.

With many counties now relying heavily on computers to manage jury selection, the legislature two years ago gave local jurisdictions the option of doing away with the position.

With that, 42 counties - including Bucks and Chester - voted to do so, according to Lisa Schaefer, government relations manager with the County Commissioners' Association of Pennsylvania.

As a result of the votes to abolish the positions - which could not be eliminated until the end of their elected terms - no one applied to run for those soon-to-be defunct jobs, many of which were scheduled to be on the ballot in November.

But after the high court revived the positions in March, the ballot lines were empty and the deadline for candidates to file petitions had passed in Bucks, Chester, and dozens of other counties statewide.

Deena Dean, director of Bucks County's Board of Elections, said there would be a hearing in Commonwealth Court to determine what the counties facing that problem should do to run a smooth electoral process.

In another wrinkle, Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R., Lebanon) said she planned to reintroduce the issue as a stand-alone bill this year, predicting it would pass, potentially before the fall election, which could allow counties to once again abolish the jobs before November.

"This is one of the more unusual legislative issues I've dealt with as county commissioner," said Ryan Costello, chairman of the Chester County commissioners.

He said eliminating the two jury commissioner posts in Chester County could save as much as $75,000 per year. In Bucks County, the two positions cost about $22,000 per year, according to commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia.

Robert Loughery, chairman of the Bucks County commissioners, said he was disappointed and frustrated that the law was overturned because eliminating the two positions could make local government "leaner and more efficient."

Loughery added, however, that the commissioners would closely monitor the progress of the legislation as it is reintroduced.

The issue is moot in Montgomery and Delaware Counties. In those counties, officials abolished the posts via a different method that has not been invalidated by the courts, Schaefer said.

Contact Chris Palmer at 609-217-8305,, or follow on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

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