Refusal to Authorize Increased Salary for Part-Time District Attorney That Became a Full-Time District Attorney

In Commonwealth ex rel. v. Corrigan, 75 Pa. D. & C. 2d 533 (1976), Judge Garb of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County considered the following: In that case, the plaintiff was appointed the part-time district attorney to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor who had resigned. In the following general election, he was elected to serve a four-year term of office as the part-time district attorney for the county. During this term of office, this part-time district attorney became a full-time district attorney through the enactment of an ordinance by the county commissioners pursuant to a former version of Section 1401 of the County Code. Under the ordinance, the new full-time district attorney was to be paid $ 1,000.00 dollars less than the judges of the court of common pleas. When the Controller of Bucks County refused to authorize the payment of this increased salary, the plaintiff filed an action in mandamus seeking to compel him to do so. The Controller defended on the basis that the increase in salary in the ordinance violated the provisions of Article 3, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In rejecting this assertion, Judge Garb stated the following, in pertinent part: Considering the increasing responsibilities of the office of district attorney because of the complicating nature of the developing sociology of the larger counties, particularly those immediately next to large urban centers, involving the increase in crime and the escalating complexities of the criminal law, the legislature has, most appropriately, addressed itself to a problem of great seriousness.... In order to accomplish this, it may be argued that the legislature has taken a circuitous route in order to increase the compensation of a district attorney in office trying by that circuitry to avoid encumbrance of this section of the Constitution. However, we do not view it that way. Although the legislature has fixed the salaries of district attorneys, it is nowhere mandated that it do so. The legislature may impose that duty upon the several boards of county commissioners. Rather than doing that, the legislature has vested in the county commissioners the option to determine the requirements of the office of district attorney, based upon local need, and considering the recommendations of the district attorney and the president judge. Where, in the wisdom of the county commissioners, the need for a full-time district attorney is not demonstrated, the district attorney may continue, as heretofore, as a part-time functionary receiving the salary as set forth by the legislature.... Where, however, the county commissioners determine that local needs dictate a full-time prosecutor, the county commissioners are vested with the discretion to make that determination and, upon so doing, the salary of the district attorney is commensurately increased by virtue of this act of assembly. Of greater importance, where the duties of a public officer are significantly increased, an increase in compensation is not prohibited by this section of the Constitution. While conceivably it may be argued that this act of assembly does not increase the duties or responsibilities of the district attorney, it is clear that the act of assembly materially changes the nature of that office and, therefore, the parameters of the qualifications for said office. While it is true that district attorneys are constitutional officers, it is likewise clear that nowhere in the Constitution are his duties prescribed and, therefore, the legislature may regulate the performance of such duties. ... This act of assembly provides for new and more stringent qualifications and restrictions on the person holding this high office. Most importantly, it provides, essentially, that he may receive no outside legal related income if he fills this office on a full-time basis. The quid pro quo from the district attorney is his full time and undiminished attention to the duties of district attorney, at the same time abjuring outside income. In so providing, the legislature has mandated that he shall give his undivided attention to his office, shall receive no other law-related compensation or emoluments, related or unrelated to the district attorney's office, and has, thereby, imposed upon him restrictions significantly extended beyond those which a part-time district attorney has. Recognizing that the salary of the district attorney may constitutionally be increased where the duties and responsibilities of his office are significantly increased, it is entirely logical and consistent that his salary may likewise be increased where the restrictions upon the district attorney in fulfilling that office have been made more stringent. Where the quid pro quo for an increase in salary may be found from an increase in his duties and responsibilities, we believe that there may be an equally compelling quid pro quo for an increase in salary where he has accepted significantly more severe restrictions upon his outside activities, in particular, upon a significant diminution in his outside earnings and activities. The quid pro quo imports justification for an increase in salary whether it be by virtue of an increase in his duties and responsibilities or a significant decrease in his opportunities for, and receipt of, outside income. It is clear from this that the spirit and underlying philosophy of this provision of the Constitution is not violated, as there is no occasion for political or partisan pressure upon the district attorney in return for the implementation of this act. Therefore, we conclude that the action of the board of county commissioners in enacting ordinance no. 39 does not constitute a violation of Article III, sec. 27, of the Constitution. Corrigan, 75 Pa. D. & C. 2d at 539-542.