Counties again face jury-commission decision

Posted: May 10, 2013

Several Pennsylvania counties hope that the third time's the charm when it comes to abolishing elected jury commissions.

Less than a month after the state Supreme Court struck down a law allowing county commissioners to get rid of elected jury overseers, the governor signed a replacement law, Senate Bill 808.

Proponents of S.B. 808 say it's no longer necessary to elect jury commissioners from opposing parties because computers can create random jury lists and court employees handle most jury arrangements anyway.

Douglas Hill of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania said that in many counties, the job has become "purely ceremonial. They would welcome the jurors, say, 'Here's what's going to happen and here's where the coffee machine is.' "

Larry Thompson, president of the State Association of Jury Commissioners, called that "hogwash." As a Butler County jury commissioner, he said, he he's on hand to answer jurors' questions before proceedings begin. In other counties, commissioners perform administrative tasks in addition to ensuring a balanced jury pool, he said.

Thompson said the association will challenge S.B. 808 in court under the Separation of Powers doctrine.

Before the previous bill was struck down in March, 42 counties, including Bucks and Chester, had moved to end the position after the current term expires this year. The ruling left those counties in limbo, with no candidates lined up and the filing deadline for the May 21 primary passed.

That gave the bill "a bit of urgency," said State Sen. Lloyd K. Smucker (R., Lancaster). Lawmakers "saw the broad support for it and realized that whether they liked it or not, they needed to act quickly."

In Chester and Bucks Counties, commissioners have yet to place the issue back on the agenda. For now, each county has two expiring seats and no candidates.

Montgomery County, one of the few where jury commissioners still have a strong administrative role, has no plans to eliminate the position.

Several home-rule counties abolished the position years ago. Philadelphia since the 1970s has allowed the Board of Judges to appoint a jury manager. In Delaware County, the County Council appoints two commissioners.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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