Several district courts proposed for closure or realignment

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CHAMBERSBURG – Six of the ten Magisterial District Courts in the 39th Judicial District, which encompasses Franklin and Fulton Counties, are proposed to be adjusted or eliminated as part of the mandated Reestablishment of Magisterial Districts that happens every decade following the U.S. Census.

The proposed plan, created by President Judge Shawn D. Meyers, is available for the public to review before submission to the state by February 28, 2022.

The plan is posted to both Franklin County and Fulton County government websites. The public is encouraged to submit written comments about the proposal to Mark Singer, District Court Administrator, 39th Judicial District, 14 N. Main St., Chambersburg, PA 17201 or msinger@franklincountypa.gov.

The Reestablishment of Magisterial Districts process is mandated by the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article V and VII) and 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 1503

What is a Magisterial District Court?

The Magisterial District Courts serve as the local courts throughout Pennsylvania’s communities that enable equal access to local justice for all residents.

They are responsible for handling small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, traffic cases, parking violations and minor criminal matters. As the first level of judicial authority in Pennsylvania, it is the court where most people experience the judicial system for the first time.

“Reestablishment of Magisterial Districts is an important process that affects every community. Each district court that is eliminated or realigned affects every local municipality, police department, school district, business, and every resident,” explained Susan Mankamyer, president of the Special Court Justice Association of Pennsylvania.

What would change?

In Franklin County, President Judge Meyers is proposing the following changes:

  • Eliminate Judge Plum’s District Court (Pleasant Hall), which currently serves Fannett, Hamilton, Letterkenny, and Lurgan Townships as well as the Franklin County portion of the PA Turnpike
  • Move Fannett, Lurgan and Letterkenny Townships into Judge Nicklas’ District Court (Scotland)
  • Move Hamilton Township into Judge Eyer’s District Court (Mercersburg)
  • Move voting wards 1, 3 and 4 of Guilford Township – except for non-Interstate traffic filings – into Judge Cunningham’s District Court (Greencastle); Currently all of Guilford Township is served by Judge Rock’s District Court (Chambersburg)
  • Move voting wards 1 and 4 of Greene Township into Judge Rock’s District Court (Chambersburg); Currently all of Greene Township is served by Judge Nicklas’ District Court (Scotland)

How would it affect businesses and schools?

Under the proposed plan, residents of Spring Run would travel to Scotland to file matters. Walmart, Lowe’s, and many other businesses with a Chambersburg address would travel to Greencastle to access justice. Barclay Village and other landlords and tenants in Hamilton Township would travel to Mercersburg for their matters to be heard. Falling Spring Elementary school and the Chambersburg Area Career Magnet School in the Chambersburg Area School District would file in Greencastle.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike – Newville Barracks would file in Mercersburg adding a minimum of 30 minutes of travel time one way to attend a hearing.

Franklin County is one of the top 10 fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania. It is the second fastest growing county of all the fourth-class counties, coming in just behind Butler County. Multiple distribution centers, warehouses, and housing developments have recently opened or are breaking ground in Franklin County. A new casino will be built directly abutting Franklin County in the Shippensburg area and development plans of the old Ft. Ritchie just over the border in Cascade, MD are well underway.

Franklin County currently has seven District Courts, but the proposed plan would reduce that to six. The projected growth in the county and surrounding area will add more work to the District Courts, not less.

Changes proposed for Fulton County

In Fulton County, President Judge Meyers has proposed the following changes:

Move all Thompson Township filings and all Bethel Township traffic filings from Judge Heming’s District Court (Needmore) into Judge Washabaugh’s District Court (McConnellsburg)

This means that residents from Thompson and Bethel Townships will be burdened with traveling approximately one and a half hours round trip over winding roads, ridges, and valleys, through gaps, over a mountain and past their current court to conduct any business with the proposed court in McConnellsburg.

The current alignment of the three Fulton County Courts was developed considering these geographical factors. To change this will result in inefficiency and will inhibit the residents’ access to their local court, adversely affecting many of those on fixed incomes and the elderly who often rely on others for their transportation.

Paramount to an equitable court system is accessibility and efficiency. “Determining locations of District Courts is not simply about statistics, population, caseload and workload. It’s about how each person and each community are served,” said Mankamyer. “How far is it to get to your local court? How accessible is your local court? Will law enforcement travel time cost municipalities more in overtime? Will victims and witnesses be inconvenienced more by having to travel farther to court? Will your court time be limited or case be prolonged with one less judge to manage the caseload? How will the proposed plan affect your access to the Magisterial District Court in your community?”

What next?

Franklin and Fulton County’s District Courts, as arranged now, are accessible and strategically located to serve communities across the district. Any imbalance of caseloads could be addressed in other ways to maintain fair public access to the local courts. For example, Magisterial District Judges with less cases could be scheduled to be on-call more often and cover Central Court days more frequently.

The public is encouraged to consider and provide feedback on how the proposed plan effects access to the Magisterial District Court in their community. Written comments or objections may be submitted to Mark Singer, District Court Administrator, 39th Judicial District, 14 N Main ST, Chambersburg, PA 17201 or msinger@franklincountypa.gov.

The Franklin & Fulton County Reestablishment Plan is available to view on each of the counties’ websites: franklincountypa.gov and co.fulton.pa.us.