Letter: ‘shameful’ attempt by legislature to end jury commissioners

To The Editor:

Letters1On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives joined the Senate of Pennsylvania in a shameful attempt to circumvent a ruling of the state Supreme Court and unlawfully, once again, eliminate an elected office that has protected the public’s rights in the selection of juries for 145 years.

We, the members of the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners, are in no way surprised by the House action. This legislation was fast tracked in both the House and Senate from the beginning. For the past two weeks, the Pennsylvania Legislature has seen fit to spend taxpayer time and money on a hell bent agenda to circumvent a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by increasing the power of county commissioners to abolish the elected office of Jury Commissioner in the year it stands for election.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on March 14 ruled the Legislature’s first attempt to abolish the office was unconstitutional. We believe Governor Corbett will sign the latest bill, SB 808, into law and once he does our association will file suit in Commonwealth Court.

The Legislature is attempting to reverse the way jurors are independently selected for jury trials; a system that has been effective for 145 years. The Legislature did this by removing historic language that, in years past, protected elected offices from this type political aggression in an election year.

Instead of actively addressing bulging legislative pensions, embarrassing criminal convictions of fellow legislators, turnpike corruption and other such matters, our elected representatives caved to the lobbying pressure of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and passed legislation to allow the elimination of the people’s over sight of the selection process for prospective jurors in their respective counties.

If the jury selection process is turned over to court administrators, the public over sight will be non-existent. These individuals are hired by and answer only to the president judge. They are totally isolated from the light of public scrutiny. The public’s trust in our judicial system would be in jeopardy of being lost.

Larry Thompson
Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners

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  1. Dennis Brown says:

    Of course it’s his job and paycheck. So what? Would you like the PA Legislature to enact new laws to abolish yours?

    With that, the point is still valid. A jury selection process, technology or not, ia a process that demands complete transparency, and direct public scrutiny is not a bad thing. It is a value to which we all should adhere to more closely when it relates to public policy in general.

    Simply put, “No more back room deals”! Jury selection oversight by a hired administrator in PA counties is a bad idea.

    • Keith Knauss says:

      I’m in favor of the legislature making governmental operations as efficient as possible. If that means cutting someone’s hours or abolishing their job, of course, I’d support the effort.
      I also support public scrutiny and transparency as it relates to the jury selection process. That’s why SB808 is a good idea – it eliminates “back room deals”.

  2. Keith Knauss says:

    When Mr. Thompson says the PA legislature made a “shameful attempt to circumvent a ruling of the state Supreme Court”, it catches my attention. SB808 passed the senate by a 38-12 margin and the house by a 156-39. Are all these legislators shameful?
    Mr. Thompson makes mention of circumventing a ruling of the state Supreme Court. The PA Supreme Court did overturn similar legislation from 2011, but did so on a technicality – the 2011 bill violated a state constitutional provision restricting laws to a single subject. The legislators listened to and openly complied with the Supreme Court ruling with SB808. There is no shame in that.
    So what is SB808? SB808 allows County officials to abolish the position of jury commissioner. In most counties, two jury commissioners of different parties work to develop procedures to create jury lists, ensure jurors are picked fairly and manage the jury pool. Jury commissioners have been around for 145 years and in that time, technology has advanced to a point where the jury commissioner’s job can be accomplished more efficiently and effectively by a court administrator.
    While Mr. Thompson complains loudly about shameful actions, political aggression and lack of public oversight, we have to wonder whether the real reason is loss of his job and paycheck.

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