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Franklin County judges to consolidate hearings

January 27, 2001

Franklin County judges to consolidate hearings



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Tuesdays will soon be known as "Court Day" in Franklin County.

Beginning Tuesday, and on that day every week thereafter, preliminary hearings for routine criminal cases will be heard in a central court on the third floor of the Franklin County Courthouse. The proceedings will begin at 9 a.m. and will run all day if necessary.

Historically, preliminary hearings have been held in the offices of the six district justices in the county where the crimes occurred.

The county's six district justices are Shirley M. Shatzer in Antrim Township, Larry G. Pentz in Waynesboro, Larry K, Meminger and Gary L. Carter, both in Chambersburg, David E. Hawbaker in Mercersburg, and John Weyman in Pleasant Hall northeast Franklin County.

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The change is being made in an attempt to speed up the flow of criminal cases through the courts and to make it easier for attorneys on both sides to schedule court time. It is also designed to reduce driving time for state troopers and police officers who will attend the hearings and the jailers who shuttle suspects from the Franklin County Prison in Chambersburg to district justice offices around the county, said William Sheaffer, court administrator for the county.

"There will probably be some bugs that will have to be worked out but there will be huge advantages in the end," Sheaffer said. "This will put everybody in one place at one time - the prosecutors, the defense attorneys, the district justices, police witnesses and defendants," he said.

"This will mean faster disposition in court," Sheaffer said. "We'll be able to get a handle on the cases quicker. There will be more of an even flow, not so many peaks and valleys."

Cases involving murder, rape and other major felonies will continue to be heard in the offices of district justices in the areas where the crimes occurred.

"That's because major felonies involve a lot of witnesses," Shatzer said.

She said her office normally handles about 30 minor criminal cases a month, mostly DUI, simple and aggravated assault and bad check charges.

Sheaffer estimated that while from 50 to 60 preliminary hearings will be scheduled for the new central court every Tuesday, many will be waived to the higher court at the defendants' request.

The new system will also help to safeguard constitutional guarantees of a speedy trial because preliminary hearings will be scheduled by Thursday for the upcoming Tuesday court sessions, Sheaffer said. "

The beauty of it is that cases will now be scheduled within a three- to 10-day period," he said.

The hearings will be held in the jury assembly room and in the courtroom of the county's fourth judge. That courtroom is always vacant on Tuesdays because the judge who occupies it travels to Fulton County to hear cases there, Shatzer said.

The district justices will share court duties on Tuesdays with two presiding each week.

Under the current system, assistant district attorneys rarely showed up for routine preliminary hearings. Arresting police officers represented the state at the hearings. With the new central system prosecutors will be on hand for every case, Sheaffer said.

Shatzer said the new system will be especially beneficial to public defenders who often have to travel to two to three different district justice offices for hearings scheduled on the same day.

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