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the Board of Commissioners of Bedford County v. Ling

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

May 21, 2014

The Board of Commissioners of Bedford County, Commissioner Kirt B. Morris, Commissioner Steven K. Howsare, Commissioner S. Paul Crooks and Bedford County Treasurer Paula K. Sheirer, Petitioners
v.
President Judge Thomas S. Ling, Court of Common Pleas of Bedford County, Respondent

Argued April 23, 2014.

Court of ORIGINAL JURISDICTION.

Clifford B. Levine, Pittsburgh, for petitioners.

Caroline P. Liebenguth, Philadelphia, for respondent.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE BROBSON. Judge McCullough did not participate in the decision of this case.

OPINION

Page 113

P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge

The Board of Commissioners (Commissioners) and Treasurer of Bedford County (collectively, Petitioners) initiated this action in our original jurisdiction, seeking declaratory and equitable relief with respect to three statutorily-based funds.[1] Judicial intervention has become necessary because of a dispute over who within county government has the authority to maintain and control disbursement from those funds. The dispute pits Petitioners against the Honorable Thomas S. Ling, who currently serves as the President Judge for the Court of Common Pleas for the 57th Judicial District, embracing Bedford County (Bedford CCP).

Page 114

Presently before the Court for disposition are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, which we will treat as cross-applications for summary relief.[2] For the reasons set forth below, we will grant Petitioner's application for summary relief and deny President Judge Ling's application.

BACKGROUND

This case presents predominantly questions of law and, as a consequence, the material facts are few and undisputed. The first of the three funds at issue in this action is what the parties refer to as the Fines/Forfeiture Fund. The Fines/Forfeiture Fund exists by virtue of Section 3572 of the Judicial Code, 42 Pa. C.S. § 3572, which provides:

Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, all fines, forfeited recognizances and other forfeitures imposed, lost or forfeited and fees and costs collected in the court of common pleas, or community court established for a judicial district embracing a county, or in a magisterial district within a county, or in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, shall be payable to such county.

The Bedford CCP nets approximately $280,000 per year through its collection of fees, fines, and forfeitures. The Bedford CCP, however, does not immediately pay these monies over to the Bedford County treasury. Instead, it initially deposits these funds into an account within its control and, as a consequence, outside of the control of Petitioners. In their complaint, Petitioners claim that President Judge Ling has improperly withheld funds in that account that, by statute, are due and owing to Bedford County. Petitioners' application for summary relief does not seek relief with respect to the Fines/Forfeiture Fund, but President Judge Ling does in his cross-application.

The second fund at issue is what the parties refer to as the DUI School Fund. This fund has its origins in Section 1549(b)(1) of the Vehicle Code, 75 Pa. C.S. § 1549(b)(1), which requires " [e]ach county, multicounty judicial district or group of counties combined under one program" to " establish and maintain a course of instruction on the problems of alcohol and driving." Regulations that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) promulgated pursuant to this section of the Vehicle Code refer to these programs as Alcohol Highway Safety Schools, or AHSSs.[3] 67 Pa. Code § 94.2. The cost of attending an AHSS is borne by the attendee in the form of a fee established by each county. Id. § 94.14. Each AHSS is administered by a DUI program coordinator, appointed by the president judge of the county or multicounty judicial district. Id. § 94.12(b), (d).

Bedford County's AHSS has been in existence since 1993. Since its inception, the chief probation/parole officer of Bedford County (CPO), Keith Bowser, has served as the county's DUI program coordinator and, along with the president

Page 115

judge, has set the fee for attending the AHSS. Also since the inception of the county's AHSS, fees paid have been deposited into a DUI School Account, a/k/a DUI Fund, outside of the purview of the county treasurer. By Order of Court dated June 14, 2012, ...


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