The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

May 28, 2014

Common law grand jury papers sealed

Action riles group’s leaders

MERCER COUNTY — One group of Mercer County residents struggled to find footing while taking the next step toward creating a common law grand jury.

“There was a great deal of resistance,” said Dr. Jim Allen, a participant and constable in Jackson Township.

The Western Pennsylvania Liberty Forum filed paperwork with Clerk of Courts Kathleen Kloos.

The papers “memorialize the fact that the people have voted to have a grand jury,” said Sue Snyder, administrator for the group.

However, Kloos said that the docket, filed under miscellaneous dockets, has been sealed by the court.

Snyder, who didn’t know that the information hadn’t been made public, was outraged at the seal.

“Sealed by what reason?” she said. “Because you don’t want us?”

The law requires that the paperwork be public and Kloos has been reluctant to file it, according to Snyder.

“She’s not real sharp,” Snyder said. “We will take legal action if need be.”

The group first met last October to open discussions.

In December, they met again, and 34 people voted to re-form a common law grand jury, Allen said.

From there, the group officially formed and began their efforts to file papers recognizing them. About a dozen people went to the courthouse to proceed.

Kloos, under advisement from Common Pleas Judge Thomas Dobson, refused to file their papers, Allen said.

“It was her statement that what was being done was not legal and had no lawful basis,” he said.

The group left and decided to mail their papers to Kloos by certified mail.

Kloos wrote back, once again declining their request.

“Everyone felt it was her legal duty to memorialize these actions,” Allen said.

The matter went to Harrisburg. A clerk from the Administration Office of Pennsylvania Courts released a statement requiring clerks to file paperwork for these grassroots efforts.

Allen said the group sees itself as the way to give people a voice in government. However, the group hasn’t seen much participation from the public.

“I think it’s important that the people actively get involved,” Allen said. “I’ve heard a lot of grumbling, but yet at the same time we’re not seeing as much action on the part of the people.”

Snyder said that many people are afraid of the law and the grand jury would serve as a bridge.

It would investigate cases they feel should be tried by the district attorney. When they complete an investigation, they’ll turn their findings over to District Attorney Robert Kochems.

However, Kochems says he stands by his initial response to the group: They have no legal standing.

“It’d be no different if someone mailed me a letter,” Kochems said.

Kochems said he’d review any material they submitted, but it’d carry no extra weight. There will not be a cooperative effort between the jury and the office to investigate matters.

“This is the French Revolution; this is not law. This is anarchy,” Kochems said.

This sort of set-up would allow accusations to be thrown at anyone, who could then throw them back on the initial accuser, breaking down any justice system, he said.

The group continues to hope for a collaborative future, though.

Snyder said that the ultimate goal is for the grand jury to work with Kochems’ office as a fourth branch of government run by the people as a check-and-balance.

“It’s authority emanates from the Bill of Rights,” Snyder said, reading from the papers filed.

Snyder is expecting “a lot of hurdles” in Mercer County, but insists that she and the Western Pennsylvania Liberty Forum will continue to push forward as concerned citizens.

“The politicians aren’t going to change anything,” she said. “The people need to take a stand and make change happen.”

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