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Longtime Magistrate Resigns Abruptly; Reason Not Given

Elizabethtown’s Magisterial District Judge Jayne F. Duncan has resigned. Robert A. Herman Jr., a senior magisterial district judge who used to preside over the court in Columbia, took over her duties on Monday, April 9.

Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker told LNP on Friday, April 6, that Duncan’s official notice given to Gov. Tom Wolf the previous day offered no explanation for her resignation. News of the resignation was reported earlier in the day by the website LIP News.

The Advocate reached out to Duncan for comment, but got no reply by press time.

Duncan and District Attorney Craig W. Stedman were both seeking an appointment to a vacancy on the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. It was unclear if Duncan was still seeking that appointment; the governor’s office did not respond by press time to that question. It is up to the governor to decide whom to nominate to fill the Common Pleas vacancy; he also has the option to leave it vacant until the next election. State Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin had recommended Stedman; the Lancaster Bar Association had given both Stedman and Duncan their top “highly recommended” rating.

Duncan and Stedman had previously been at loggerheads over a dispute over how Duncan handled a traffic ticket in 2015. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately sided with Duncan in the dispute, though Stedman said after the February 2017 ruling that it was a victory for him. Stedman said at the time that the state’s highest court did not make any “substantive findings,” so he considered the ruling “very favorable in the grand scheme of things” despite it being in Duncan’s favor.

Reinaker told LNP that he might not seek a permanent replacement for Duncan; he said it is possible that he will merge the Elizabethtown court with one or more other courts.

Reinaker told LNP he received an email from Duncan on the afternoon of Thursday, April 5, with an attachment of the letter of resignation she sent to the governor. The letter said her resignation would be effective as of midnight on Sunday, April 8.

Reinaker was critical of the abrupt resignation.

“There is a whole day of preliminary hearings scheduled in that office Monday,” he told LNP. “There is a level of disregard for her duties, for those who have to jump into the breach now and for her constituents that is, frankly, shocking.”

Magisterial district judges in Pennsylvania handle minor offenses such as traffic tickets, landlord-tenant disputes, small civil claims and minor criminal matters. They also preside over preliminary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence of a serious crime to order someone to stand trial in the county Court of Common Pleas. They do not have to be lawyers, although Duncan is a lawyer; she was admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania on Nov. 9, 1982, state records show. LNP reported that she is a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law.

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