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JOAN L. SNYDER v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/26/85)

decided: December 26, 1985.

JOAN L. SNYDER, APPELLANT,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION BOARD OF REVIEW, APPELLEE



COUNSEL

Wallace C. Worth, Allentown, Marc S. Fisher, Easton, for appellant.

Richard F. Faux, Leroy S. Zimmerman, Atty. Gen., Michael B. Sutton, Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson, J., files a concurring opinion. McDermott, Zappala, JJ., concur in the result. Papadakos, J., files a dissenting opinion. Larsen, J., dissents and adopts the dissenting opinion of Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Williams in this case. See Fayette County v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, Author: Flaherty

[ 509 Pa. Page 440]

OPINION ANNOUNCING THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT

This case presents the questions of whether an administrative directive of this Court prohibiting all judicial employees from engaging in partisan political activities, including running for public office, is constitutional; whether this administrative directive prevails over a legislative enactment which contradicts the directive; and whether a court employee who resigns her position in order to run for public office may be said to have left her employment because of a "necessitous and compelling" reason which makes her eligible for unemployment compensation.

Joan Snyder was employed for almost thirteen years as a secretary in the office of District Justice of the Peace Edward Ernst of Lehigh County, when, in 1983, she decided to run for the elective office of District Justice of the Peace. The Magisterial District Administrator for Lehigh County informed Snyder that if she chose to continue her candidacy for public office, she would have to resign her position as a court employee. Snyder elected to continue her candidacy

[ 509 Pa. Page 441]

    for public office and resigned her position. After her resignation, she applied for unemployment compensation.

The Office of Employment Security denied her claim for benefits, and a referee affirmed the denial on the grounds that Snyder voluntarily quit her job, making her ineligible for benefits. Upon appeal from the referee's decision, the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review affirmed the referee's denial of benefits, also on the grounds that Snyder voluntarily resigned from her position. Commonwealth Court, en banc, affirmed, one judge dissenting. We granted allocatur to determine the validity of our administrative directives as against the contradicting provisions of a legislative enactment and to decide whether a court employee who resigned her position in the context of the facts of this case may be said to have voluntarily quit her job. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the Commonwealth Court.

On March 18, 1977 the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania sent to all judges and district justices of the peace in the Commonwealth one of several memoranda on the subject of political activities of district justices and court personnel. The March 18 memorandum stated:

This Supplemental Memorandum is a reminder to judges and district justices of the peace that they and their staffs must remain free from any political activity. Persons employed in sensitive positions in the court system must not engage in partisan politics. This would preclude law clerks, court administrators and secretarial employees from being committee-persons, working at the polls or running for public office.

(Emphasis added).

The next year the Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Ethics Act, Act of October 4, 1978, P.L. 883, No. 170, § 1, 65 P.S. 401 et. seq., which provides, in pertinent part:

Nothing in this act, or in any other law or court rule shall be construed to prohibit any constable or any employee of a court of common pleas, the Municipal Court of Philadelphia, the Traffic Court of Philadelphia, or any

[ 509 Pa. Page 442]

    employee of a district justice from also being an officer of a political body or political party as such terms are defined in the . . . "Pennsylvania Election Code," and the same may hold the office of a county, State or national committee of any political party, and may run for and hold any elective office, and may participate in any election day activities.

65 P.S. § 410. (Emphasis added). Section 412, entitled "Conflict of Law," states: "If the provisions of this act conflict with any other statute, ordinance, regulation or rule, the provisions of this act shall control." 65 P.S. § 412.

A plain reading of Section 410 of the Ethics act, supra, which permits court employees to participate in partisan political activity, indicates that the statute explicitly contravenes our directive of March 18, 1977 that court employees not participate in any form of partisan political activity. Our initial determination, therefore, must be whether the administrative directive of this Court proscribing court employees from engaging in partisan political activity supersedes and prevails over the provisions of Section 410.

The Pennsylvania Constitution assigns to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania "general supervisory and administrative authority over all the courts and justices of the peace." Art V, § 10(a). The Constitution also grants this Court "the power to prescribe general rules governing practice, procedure and the conduct of all courts, justices of the peace and all officers serving process or enforcing orders . . . including . . . the administration of all courts and supervision of all officers of the Judicial Branch . . . ." Art V, § 10(c). This same ...


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