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Dallas County Constables Take Commissioners To Court

By BJ Austin, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-984173.mp3

Dallas, TX – A plan by Dallas County Commissioners to transfer some Constable duties to the Sheriff is "on hold" - per order of a federal judge. KERA's BJ Austin reports on the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Commissioners and Constables.

County Commissioners were set to vote on the plan to transfer service of "civil" papers, such as eviction notices, to the Sheriff. The County would lay off 60 Deputy Constables January first and save nearly a million dollars. But Federal Judge Royal Ferguson stopped that vote just before it was to happen. He granted a temporary restraining order after Constables argued the job cuts are retaliation after deputies complained about illegal towing and policing of private, charitable events. The deputies' complaints cited potential misconduct on the part of a former Constable and County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

Price: No comment. It's called no comment. I know that's hard. It's spelled n-o-c-o-m-m-e-n-t.

County Judge Clay Jenkins disputes the retaliation claim.

Jenkins: It's not true, but I'm not going to have any comment on pending litigation. That's our county policy.

A federal court hearing on the Constables' claim is set for September 29th and 30th, "after" Commissioners vote on the 2012 budget - which was to include the 900 thousand dollar savings in the Constable plan.

Jenkins: What will happen is, we will budget money sufficient to cover either scenario in our 2012 budget. Then after the courts rule, we'll revisit the item and everyone will vote however they vote.

Over the past couple of years, County Commissioners have stripped Constables of their traffic enforcement duties and SWAT teams. There were investigations of wrongdoing in two Constable Precincts. More recently, there was a scandal of deputies saying they had served civil papers, when they had not. Commissioner Maurine Dickey has been critical of the Constables. She says she's not surprised by the lawsuit.

Dickey: I had heard about the lawsuit. But I didn't know when that would take place, or if it would take place. So I have no further comment.

Constable Roy Williams is part of the group that sought the temporary restraining order. He said last week he believes the Commissioners are trying to eventually abolish the constable offices. Commissioners say it's all about saving money. The judge will hear testimony and sort it out next month.

Email BJ Austin