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April 5, 2013

Judge: No primary to pick jury commissioners

HARRISBURG — A state judge has ruled that county jury commissioner races will not appear on next month’s spring primary ballot and the candidates instead will be chosen by the political parties.

In a decision posted Friday, Judge James Gardner Colins ruled against a jury commissioners’ group that had asked to have the races placed on the

May 21 ballot. The issue arose after the state Supreme Court last month threw out a 2011 law under which 42 counties – including Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland – had eliminated their jury commissioners.

Colins said it would not be possible to include the races in the primary “without creating a chaotic, expensive and unmanageable system.”

Sam Stretton, who represents the Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners and several commissioners who had sued, said they would appeal to the Supreme Court next week.

“It’s not over yet,” Stretton said. “I think it’s a gross violation of the First Amendment. The testimony was they could do it, but it would be difficult. This is a democracy – we must have elections.”

The counties had argued that putting the contests on the primary ballot at this point would be expensive and that some absentee overseas ballots were already mailed out, raising the possibility that people serving in the military would not be able to vote for the jury commissioner races.

Colins wrote that time constraints and costs were part of the reason he did not order the races to be placed on the primary ballot.

The high court threw out the jury commissioner abolition law on grounds that it violated the state constitution’s requirement that bills be confined to a single subject. Leaders in the House and Senate have asked for that ruling to be reconsidered, and a bill was introduced this week that would re-authorize the power to eliminate the offices.

The other affected counties are Adams, Beaver, Bradford, Bucks, Carbon, Cameron, Chester, Clarion, Clear­field, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Cum­berland, Elk, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lycoming, McKean, Mifflin, Monroe, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Venango, Washington and Wyoming.

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