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ROSS GRAHAM v. MARS AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT (06/10/80)

decided: June 10, 1980.

ROSS GRAHAM, APPELLANT
v.
MARS AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County in case of Ross Graham v. Mars Area School District, Ms. D. No. 76-148.

COUNSEL

John J. Morgan, for appellant.

Charles E. Dillon, Dillon, McCandless, King & Kemper, for appellee.

Judges Mencer, Rogers and Williams, Jr., sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 52 Pa. Commw. Page 117]

Ross Graham has appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, upholding the action of the Board of School Directors of the Mars Area School District refusing Graham a regular contract of employment and dismissing him from its service.

Graham was employed by the Mars Area School District as a physical education instructor under a temporary professional employee contract for the school years 1974-75 and 1975-76. He was assigned to teach classes in an elementary school, a middle school and a high school, each under a different school principal. The district superintendent rated Graham's work unsatisfactory during the last four months of his second year of service and notified him that he would recommend that the board not renew his contract. The School Board, at Graham's request, conducted a public hearing on the superintendent's recommendation pursuant to the Local Agency Law, Act of December 2, 1968, P.L. 1133, as amended, formerly 53 P.S. § 11301 et seq., repealed by the Act of April 28, 1978, P.L. 202, § 2(a), but now to be found at 2 Pa. C.S. §§ 101-106, 2 Pa. C.S. §§ 551-555 and 2 Pa. C.S. §§ 751-754.

At the start of the hearing, Graham's attorney requested "the right" as he put it, "to voir dire each member of the Board", sitting to hear the case as required by law, "to determine prior knowledge, prior discussions, prior resolutions, prior discussion [sic] or viewing of evidence or any other matter

[ 52 Pa. Commw. Page 118]

    which may have occurred prior to this hearing in which School Board members may have been involved and which had resulted in the [members] not being able to provide my client with due process of law." The request was refused. After three long nights of hearing, the Board voted not to tender Graham a regular contract of employment. See Section 1108 of the Public School Code of 1949, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended, 24 P.S. § 11-1108.

Graham first says that he was denied due process by the School Board's refusal to submit its members to voir dire examination. No authority for the right to conduct a voir dire examination of the members of an administrative agency engaged in the adjudicative process is cited and none seems to exist. Voir dire is the examination and interrogation of prospective jurors; its purpose is to assist counsel in challenging jurors for cause, so that a competent, fair, impartial and unprejudiced jury may be seated. Commonwealth v. McGrew, 375 Pa. 518, 100 A.2d 467 (1953). The differences between the process of selecting and the functions of juries on the one hand, and administrative agencies with quasi-judicial powers on the other are too plain to require our exposition. Voir dire is not available to test members of administrative bodies engaged in adjudicating issues committed to their decision. The administrative process should be speedy, cheap and simple, keeping the role of lawyers to the minimum necessary to achieve fairness. See Professor K. Davis's hornbook, Administrative Law Text 14 (3rd ed. 1972).

Of course, due process must be accorded in administrative proceedings and of course unfair and biased adjudications of administrative agencies will be set aside. However, the matters concerning ...


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