Since 1868, the elected representatives of the office of jury commissioner have made sure the jury selection process in Pennsylvania is fair and plaintiffs and defendants in civil and criminal cases have an impartial jury.
Act 4, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor earlier this year, will effectively eliminate the office of Jury Commissioner by allowing county commissioners to abolish the office. The Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners is challenging the new law and the case is before the Commonwealth Court. We expect the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will make the final decision.
Attorneys for our association have filed legal briefs in Commonwealth Court in support of the position of the jury commissioners. The filings contain reasons to support the position of jury commissioners as the integrity of the judicial system is in jeopardy.
The Legislature has violated the Constitution by taking control over a function of the judiciary. Obviously, the separation of powers doctrine of the Constitution has been violated. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as should the Commonwealth Court, should protect its duties and responsibilities. To allow Act 4 to stand would pose a challenge to the judiciary’s independence.
If the integrity of trials, through a questionable jury panel, is in question, reversals of outcomes can take place. This will cost the taxpayers additional money. Apparently the Legislature believes it can save a few pennies by eliminating the elected office of jury commissioner.
The selection of juries is a vital part of our judicial system. The system has worked for 145 years. Jury commissioners have done their job well over all of the years and have been a barrier to prevent political interference and corruption in the jury selection process.