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JOHN W. GARDNER v. THOMAS G. PEOPLES (03/17/86)

decided: March 17, 1986.

JOHN W. GARDNER, C. RICHARD LOGAN, WILLIAM C. STOUFFER, COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF BLAIR, PENNSYLVANIA, AND ROBERT A. GROVE, CONTROLLER OF THE COUNTY OF BLAIR, PENNSYLVANIA, PETITIONERS
v.
THOMAS G. PEOPLES, JR., PRESIDENT JUDGE OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF BLAIR COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THE JUDGES OF THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF BLAIR COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, AND ALFRED E. WEGEMER, SHERIFF OF BLAIR COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS



Original Jurisdiction in the case of John W. Gardner, C. Richard Logan, William C. Stouffer, Commissioners of the County of Blair, Pennsylvania, and Robert A. Grove, Controller of the County of Blair, Pennsylvania v. Thomas G. Peoples, Jr., President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, Pennsylvania, individually and on behalf of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, Pennsylvania, and Alfred E. Wegemer, Sheriff of Blair County, Pennsylvania.

COUNSEL

Michael J. Wagner, with him, James S. Routch, Evey, Routch, Black, Dorezas, Magee & Andrews, for petitioners.

D. Brook Smith, with him, Stephen D. Wicks, for respondents.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Rogers, Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Craig. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Craig

[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 602]

Issue

This case presents an important and sensitive question: When a county commissioners' resolution mandates the retirement of all county employees at age 70, may it lawfully apply to court criers and court attendants on the personal staff of the judges of a common pleas court, or would its application to them violate the constitutional and statutory rules which prohibit interference with the exclusive powers vested in the judges to hire, supervise and discharge such employees?

History of the Case

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court assigned this case to this court by an order granting an application for plenary jurisdiction and relief, which the County Commissioners and County Controller of Blair County had filed against President Judge Thomas Peoples of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, in his official capacity, and against Alfred E. Wegemer, Sheriff of Blair County. The plenary jurisdiction application embraced two earlier suits, filed separately by the president judge and the sheriff to bar the county from applying its mandatory retirement rule. (Because no counsel for the sheriff has participated in these proceedings in any way, this court agrees with counsel for the county and the president judge that the issues in the sheriff's suit are not before this court in this proceeding, a conclusion confirmed by the fact that the Supreme Court order, although mentioning the sheriff in the caption, reflects the trial court docket number only for the president judge's suit and not that of the sheriff's suit.)

Before the Supreme Court took plenary jurisdiction, that court had specially designated Judge Newton C. Taylor to preside over the suit filed by the president

[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 603]

    judge; Judge Taylor had orally granted a temporary restraining order against the county before the filing of its application for plenary jurisdiction to obtain relief from that restraint. Although the application for plenary jurisdiction apparently suspended the trial court's power to deal further with the case, see 42 Pa. C.S. ยง 726 and Pa. R.A.P. 3309(d), counsel for all parties have agreed that, in place of a new hearing before this court, we can decide the case on the basis of the record which the parties made before Judge Taylor.

Facts

Pursuant to consideration of that record, this court notes that the essential facts are not in dispute and therefore adopts findings substantially in accordance with the findings ultimately filed by Judge Taylor. The findings are as follows:

1. The parties consist of the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, on the one hand, and the elected County Commissioners and elected Controller of Blair County, on the other hand.

2. The president judge, as such, had appointed Walter L. O'Donnell as court crier on his personal staff effective January 7, 1980, and had also appointed Elizabeth L. Dick and Frances M. Riley as part-time court attendants.

3. The Salary Board of the County of Blair previously had lawfully funded those positions.

4. The county commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution of January 12, 1982, mandating retirement from employment with the County of Blair for all county employees who achieved the age of 70 years.

5. In April of 1982, the president judge advised the county commissioners in writing that he regarded the resolution as inapplicable to the employees in question for the reason that the employment and discharge

[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 604]

    of court employees are matters within the exclusive control of the judges of the court.

6. At the same time, the Controller of Blair County advised the president judge that he regarded himself as bound by the mandatory retirement resolution and would therefore refuse to continue on the county payroll any employee of the court who had attained the age of 70 years by April 16, 1982.

7. All three of the named court employees had achieved the age of 70 years by the pertinent date.

8. There is no evidence that the performance of their work by the three named court employees is ...


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