HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court today turned down a request by county governments to force the General Assembly to provide more money for state courts and bring greater uniformity to the court system.
The court's unanimous decision against the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and 10 counties could end litigation that goes back a quarter century over funding levels and uneven standards in courthouses across the state.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille's 36-page written opinion said there has been progress in recent years and the justices believe that "further enhancements" of the state courts should be produced by the three branches of government working together.
"We trust in the prospect of further cooperation of the coordinate branches to determine what local court functions are necessary, or wise, to be incorporated within a unified, centrally funded system," Castille wrote. "The situation is not now as it was in 1996, when the court was faced with legislative inaction."
The court in 1996 ordered the Legislature to enact a new funding system for the judicial system and appointed a master to recommend how changes could be implemented. In response, county-level court administrators became state employees, and other modifications were made. But a decade later, the counties sued to have other aspects of the '96 ruling implemented.
Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, called the decision a disappointment, but said talks continue about ways to bring more court-related operations under statewide standards and supervision.
"Counties continue to find it difficult to balance the needs of a court that they don't control against the available tax resources that they have locally," Hill said. "We continue to believe that the most uniform justice is achieved by consolidating the system."
Spokesmen for the state House and Senate leaders named as respondents in the case — Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson — did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.