May 22, 2013 —
The Pike County Commissioners joined officials in 41 other counties in the state when they voted to abolish the commissioner of jurors positions at the county meeting on May 15. Pike has two such commissioners: Republican Marjorie Wassmer and Democrat Getrude Smith.
Wassmer and Smith would have been running for their positions again this year and would have been on the ballot in November, but now that their positions have been eliminated, they will leave their positions at the end of the year. Each is paid $4,000 per year.
The commissioner of jurors system has been in place for more than 100 years, and the commissioners are responsible for, among other things, overseeing lists of potential jurors and welcoming jurors to service. Pike County Commissioner Richard Caridi said the commissioners of jurors are no longer needed because most of the work of the office is now done by the courts.
Another reason that county officials give for eliminating the positions is that now, lists of jurors can be randomly generated by computer; thus the oversight of the commissioners is no longer needed to ensure fairness.
The law that allows counties to abolish the position, says that if they do so, it becomes the responsibility of the county commissioners to ensure that lists of potential jurors constitute a “representative cross-section of the community.”
The Pennsylvania Association of Jury Commissioners has said that it may take legal action over the matter, because in that organization’s view, the office is part of the judicial branch of government and cannot be eliminated by county commissioners, who have legislative and executive responsibilities, but no judicial responsibilities.
Some 25 counties in the state, including Wayne, have decided not to eliminate the officials because they have determined that their commissioners of jurors perform tasks that are needed by the county, and without them, in the case of Wayne County, a new full-time employee would have to be hired.