Jury commissioner post not on Susq. Co. ballot

BY STACI WILSON

Susquehanna County is one of over 40 Pennsylvania counties that have abolished the elected office of Jury Commissioner.

As it currently stands, the office, which would be up for election this year, will not appear on the ballot for county voters, confirmed Susquehanna County Director of Elections Laura Watts.

But the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners filed a request with the state’s Supreme Court in late January asking the high court to order the office on this year’s Primary Ballot in all counties.

Candidates seeking office in 2013 can begin circulating nomination petitions on Feb. 19, which lends to the Association’s urgency in filing the request.

The Supreme Court is currently reviewing a 4-3 decision by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that upheld a law that allows counties to vote to abolish the office of jury commissioner. The Supreme Court has not yet issued a decision on the matter, nor have oral arguments been heard in the case.

Larry Thompson, President of the Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners said, “The Supreme Court has not ruled on our association’s challenge to the law authorizing the elimination of our elected positions.”

Susquehanna County’s two jury commissioners are elected every four years, with the top getting Republican and Democratic candidates earning the position. Republican Gladys Bennett holds the office along with Democrat Charles Bullock who was appointed in January to fill the remainder of the term vacated by Bob Chamberlain who resigned from the position.

“We strongly believe that the Supreme Court will right this wrong and the highly-regarded office of Jury Commissioner will continue be part of Pennsylvania’s judicial system,” Thompson said. “Without the Supreme Court ordering the office to be placed on the primary ballot, Pennsylvania taxpayers will be in a position of having to pay the bill to hold additional elections.”

The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stems from the legislatures passing of Act 108 of 2011 which authorized counties to abolish the office.

The jury commissioners’ association contends the law violates the separation of powers with jury commissioners falling under the judicial branch of the government and therefore giving the legislature no authority pass a law that would allow for county commissioners to abolish the office.