CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners expressed their support on Monday for a motion filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by the statewide County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), which seeks to enforce a 1996 order of the Court that had set the parameters for commonwealth assumption of funding for the lower judiciary.
Commissioner Joan Robinson McMillen explained, “The Supreme Court issued a ruling twenty-one years ago which the state has failed to implement. In the meantime, our local taxpayers continue to bear the responsibility of funding the lower court system. Despite the court’s ruling, our county has actually had to increase funding for the judiciary due to failure by the commonwealth not only to implement this decision, but also to fund existing mandates. In our county local taxpayers have been forced to pay an additional $102,000.00 to fund the state’s share of the full-time district attorney’s salary as required by a state law adopted in 2005.”
Historically and currently all personnel, capital and operating expenses of the lower judiciary, except judicial and court administrator salaries and part of the district attorney salaries, are borne by county government. In the 1987 decision County of Allegheny v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a lower court system funded by 67 counties with disparate fiscal capacities created an inherently unequal system of justice. The Court allowed the existing system of funding to remain in place until the legislature had reasonable time to act. After five years of legislative inaction, CCAP filed a petition for mandamus with the Court in December 1992 to enforce the original decision.
The Court found in favor of the Association and appointed retired justice Frank Montemuro as master to develop a set of recommendations on how the decision could be implemented. The Montemuro report was issued and adopted by the Court in 1996, and provided for four phases to transfer funding and administrative responsibility to the commonwealth.
Only the first phase of the Montemuro report, which involved the transfer of approximately 200 court employees to the state – chiefly court administrators and deputy administrators – was accomplished in 1999. Transfer and funding of other judicial functions such as support staff for common pleas judges and magisterial district justices, court-related row offices, domestic relations and juvenile and adult probation and parole are among those issues yet to be addressed.
“Costs for the courts have increased just as all costs have increased, but the reimbursement provide by the state has not increased in more than twenty-five years,” Commissioner John Sobel noted. “The state currently reimburses counties $70,000 per judicial position for court costs. This amount has not been increased since 1981 and, if adjusted for inflation, the state would need to reimburse counties $166,000 to have the same purchasing power as the reimbursement had when it was first enacted in 1981.”
“We believe that the time has come for the Supreme Court to hold the state responsible for implementation of the Court’s orders. As the Court has already pointed out, the existing county-driven funding system is unfair not only to local taxpayers, but also to plaintiffs and defendants, because differences in local conditions can also impact equality in the justice system from county to county,” Commissioner Mark McCracken said.
For more information about the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania’s litigation, click here.