Jury Commissioners on their way out

The Warren County Commissioners voted unanimously during their meeting Wednesday morning to abolish the office of jury commissioner effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 808 into law as Act 4 on May 6 to allow counties to eliminate the jury commissioners’ offices.

According to the resolution, “the Board of Commissioners of the County of Warren has received information that abolishing the office of jury commissioner in Warren County would result in a cost savings to the County.”

Commissioner John Bortz said the commissioners met two weeks ago with court administration to determine there are sufficient procedures in place to continue the jury selection process after the jury commissioners’ term ends in 2016, a stipulation found in the resolution.

“We have seen this done with other counties throughout the commonwealth. I think it’s a good action to take and it has the opportunity for us to incur some savings overall for county operations,” said Bortz.

“Counties can opt in or out,” Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said. “I support it.”

Commissioner John Eggleston described the process to eliminate the two positions as “long and tortuous” and said the decision will streamline county government within state law.

“This is another example of government being structured based on 1870 or some point way in the past where modern tools like the computer and other things can make sure that an unbiased jury panel can be assembled and it really has made this position unnecessary,” said Eggleston. “Part of what people have to keep in mind is that smaller counties have less need for this than some of the bigger counties. Not everybody is going to do away with this.”

Jury commissioners “ensure that lists of potential jurors are a representative cross section of the community, and hereby finds that the procedures in effect within the County of Warren are sufficient to ensure that lists of potential jurors are a representative cross section of the community,” according to the resolution.

Jury Commissioner Richard Campbell said they are responsible for advertising and mailing summons to potential jurors. “We do that about six, seven times a year,” he said. “It’s a whole day’s job.”

He held the position for two terms, but as a former county commissioner he said, “I understand where they’re coming from.”

“There are too many elected officials that are costing the taxpayer way beyond the means they’re paying for,” Campbell said. “I feel bad because I fall into that category…there are an awful lot of jobs that should be eliminated.”

Linda Hessley and Campbell were reelected to the positions in November 2011. They were later both part of a lawsuit against the commissioners in May 2012 with three other elected county officials seeking to reinstate salary increases and health and insurance benefits. Judge Maureen Skerda found in October the commissioners “did not abuse their discretion” in denying health benefits and salary increases to the five part-time county employees.

Skerda said in her ruling that the commissioners did not reduce the jury commissioners’ salary below the state minimum of $2,000 and they do “…have discretion to reduce any elected county officer’s salary, but the Warren County Commissioners do not have discretion to reduce any elected county officer’s salary below the statutory minimum salary.”

Hessley was not available for comment on Wednesday.