CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners voted unanimously, 3-0, to abolish the office of jury commissioners at their regular meeting Tuesday. The abolishment will be effective at the conclusion of the jury commissioners’ term in 2013.
Commissioner Chairman John A. Sobel explained the board’s action resulted from Act 108 of 2011, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Dec. 15, 2011. Corbett’s legislation permits most Pennsylvania counties to abolish the elected positions of jury commissioner with a majority vote. However, it stipulates that current jury commissioners are allowed to serve until their terms expire.
Jury commissioners oversee the process by which jurors are selected for court proceedings. The jury commissioners ensure the jury selection process is fair and impartial.
Over the past several months, Sobel said the commissioners have studied the jury officials’ office. He said the commissioners were considering its abolishment for two reasons.
With the passage of time, he said the county has experienced technological advancements. He said the jury commissioners’ job is essentially carried out by computer software.
Secondly, Sobel said the commissioners are continually looking for ways to reduce the costs of government. He stressed that both jury commissioners have done an outstanding job and represent the best in civil service.
“But we have to be realistic here,” he said. The commissioners met with the jury officials, both judges, including Clearfield County President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman, and the court administrator.
“All were very cooperative,” said Sobel. “Both jury commissioners enjoy what they do and understand that the interests of the citizens come first.”
Commissioner Joan Robinson-McMillen said the office of jury commissioner has a total budget of $49,172, which includes salaries, hospital waiver, Medicare and medical insurance expenses, etc. as well as postage, association dues and printed supplies.
After abolishing the office of jury commissioner, the county would hire a part-time clerk under the court administrator. She said this position would only cost the county $12,859.75 and also included salaries, Medicare and medical insurance expenses and postage and printed supplies.
“It will be a savings of approximately $37,000 to the county,” she said.
Commissioner Mark B. McCracken said the commissioners went through a “very deliberate process” and took a “hard look” at the current office. He said a couple Pennsylvania counties moved swiftly and abolished the office of jury commissioner within months of Corbett’s legislation, which wasn’t how Clearfield County wanted to proceed.
He said with the jury selection process becoming computerized, the part-time clerk would be tasked with the manual aspects of the process, such as sending out notices.
Robinson-McMillen noted the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners has appealed Act 108 of 2011. The complaint was filed Jan. 10 by the PSAJC.