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March 18, 2013

County may be keeping jury commissioners

NEW CASTLE — The Lawrence County commissioners may have to restore the positions of jury commissioner.

They learned late Thursday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned a law that allowed counties of the third through eighth classes to abolish jury commissioners.

Lawrence County is a fifth-class county.

The county has two elected part-time jury commissioner positions, currently occupied by Helen Jackson and Amy Shea. Under a resolution the commissioners adopted in December, those positions would be eliminated when their terms expire this year.

Commissioner chairman Dan Vogler said last year the commissioners’ decision was financial. The move would have saved at least $55,000 annually. Each position pays $12,000 a year, plus benefits totaling $31,000.

Vogler said yesterday he received an email from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, saying the Supreme Court decision overturns Act 108 of 2011.

The ruling is based on the narrow issue that in the high court’s view, the legislation contained multiple subjects, which violates the constitutional provision.

The county commissioners association argued that while the bill addressed two issues — the jury commissioner abolition and electronic bidding — it was within a single statute and both issues dealt with commissioner administrative prerogatives.

“We’re asking (county solicitor Thomas) Leslie to review the decision and advise us as to whether we need to rescind the resolution,” Vogler said.

More than half of the 60 Pennsylvania counties had enacted similar resolutions. Butler and Mercer counties had decided to keep their jury commissioners.

Vogler noted that the county’s two jury commissioner positions are up for election this year, but the Supreme Court ruling came down two days after the deadline for candidates to file petitions.

The commissioners association said in its email that the positions may be placed on the November ballot, using the procedure under the state Election Code, but that is not certain yet.

“Our resolution was based on Act 108, and if it is unconstitutional, we have to rescind what we have done,” he said.

Jury commissioner Helen Jackson said yesterday she is happy about the ruling, adding she intends to run for the post again.

“I was very happy to see that the law was overturned,” she commented. “I know a few of the commissioners throughout the state have been working hard to overturn it.”

She is waiting to hear when the election will take place. “To us (she and the other jury commissioner), it’s all up in the air yet.”

The state jury commissioners association last year appealed the law to Commonwealth Court, which upheld it. The association then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“We’re very happy for the work that the officers and lawyer did in presenting our case to the Supreme Court,” Jackson said.


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