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After Lancaster County was established in May of 1729, the new Lancaster County

Court held its first session in August 1729 at Postlethwaite’s Tavern. In 1737, the Coun-

ty’s first Courthouse was constructed in the square. Here, Indian Chiefs met with the

British in 1744, during the ensuing four-year war with France. It was also in this Court-

house that the Continental Congress met on September 27, 1777 and that the Pennsyl-

vania General Assembly met during the British occupation of Philadelphia. In 1786, af-

ter this Courthouse was destroyed by fire, another was constructed in the square and

used until 1853. In 1853, the Lancaster County Court met in Fulton Hall, now known as

the Fulton Opera House, while the present Courthouse was being constructed between

King, Duke, and Grant Streets. Sessions began here in 1854, and in 1977, the Court-

house was expanded by an addition along Duke Street.

Pursuant to Pennsylvania’s 1790 Constitution, Judge Atlee received his commis-

sion for life subject to removal either by impeachment or for reasonable cause by the

Governor upon a two-thirds vote of both branches of the legislature. In 1838, the new

Constitution allowed for ten-year judicial appointments by the Governor with Senate

approval. Later, an 1850 amendment removed all sitting judges and replaced them with

judges selected by popular election. In 1874, that term was set at ten years, although

Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were elected for twenty-one year terms.

The 1968 amendments to the Constitution allowed for judges to be selected by popular

election for their initial ten-year term and thereafter stand for either election or reten-


Prior to the 1968 amendments, judges who were appointed to the Common Pleas

bench also sat as Judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery

and the Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace. Oyer and Terminer Courts tried felony

cases and the Quarter Sessions Courts tried misdemeanors. The difference in court

names made no difference in court functioning. The 1968 Constitutional amendments

created a unified judicial system from the District Justice Court through the Supreme

Court. Furthermore, Orphans’ Court was declared a division of the Court of Common

Pleas; the two had previously been separate. Major legislative efforts, most notable in

1976, 1978, and 1980, have served to modernize, organize, and rationalize the admin-

istration of justice for Pennsylvania citizens.

Lancaster County Judges and Court Officials have often set the example for other

court systems with innovative programs to improve the administration of justice. In

1960, the Court created a separate Domestic Relations division. With the cooperation of

local industry, the Court implemented a Work Release program at the Lancaster Coun-

ty Prison to encourage restitution to the victim and to promote rehabilitation of the of-

fender. In 1980, a Special Offenders Services project was inaugurated within the Proba-

tion and Parole Department of the Lancaster County Court. This project has received

national recognition for its work in supervising persons with mental retardation who

have been convicted of crimes.