THE BAD NEWS BEARERS

EVICTIONS, SUBPOENAS, REPOS--CONSTABLES SPEND THEIR LIVES GIVING PEOPLE GRIEF. NOW THESE HARBINGERS OF HEARTBREAK JUST MIGHT BE LOOKING AT THEIR OWN PINK SLIPS.

They have no staff and most work at least part of the weekend and some evenings in order to get documents served.

As elected officials, the constables answer to no one but the voters. They have no boss. The county Board of Supervisors controls their $1.2 million budget and their equipment--including their county cars, which have been a big reason some candidates run for the office, and the easiest way for a constable to get into trouble.

The law requires that constables be 21 years old and live in the district they serve. That's about it. Arizona Peace Officer Standards Training Board (AZPOST), the same folks who train the cops, offers a 40-hour training course on the civil process for the constables. It does not teach them about things like firearms and arrest procedures, and it's not mandatory.

Depending on the size of the voting population in the district, Maricopa County constables make up to $44,000 a year, a salary set by the state legislature.

All of this seems to be attractive to a lot of people. Generations of people, as a matter of fact.

Buckeye Constable Frank Chilcoat's son, John Chilcoat, was elected to the post in Glendale. Gila Bend Constable Carol Sly's father was also a constable. And Jim Jones' son, Kevin Jones, is one of two deputy constables.

Arizona constables seem to have a penchant for the wild and wacky, which hasn't exactly helped their case when they've tried to preserve the office.

A few have been reprimanded for overzealousness, including one who took it upon himself to make traffic violations his business and pulled over a car. He found a county supervisor behind the wheel.

Among the county's more notorious personalities is former East Phoenix constable Barney Blaine, who was indicted in 1992 for living outside his precinct, soliciting bribes and lying under oath about the sale of merchandise he had confiscated on the job.

His county-issued car was seized by police for delinquent parking tickets. Blaine lost his law enforcement certification after he was arrested for shoplifting videotapes and magazines from a supermarket.

Joe Freddy Abril didn't do much to help the constables' image, either.
Abril, nephew of former state legislator Tony Abril, served for 16 years as constable of the South Phoenix Justice Court. While in office during the 1980s, he was arrested three times, lost his county car twice and his driver's license once.

In one particularly infamous incident, Abril was convicted of drunken driving after cruising down a street with two flat tires. And a third missing. His license was suspended for a year, but the diligent Abril continued to serve the court on foot, by bus and through the kindness of friends who gave him lifts.

Abril's legal travails made for tension in the courthouse. Until South Phoenix Justice of the Peace Robert Garcia locked him out of the courthouse altogether.

Another former East Phoenix constable, Greg Olea, was booted out of office in 1992 after he was convicted for using cocaine found in his county car. Olea has filed an appeal.

Prior to that, he was investigated for misusing his county car and required to repay travel expenses he'd charged to the county for attending constable conventions.

Maryvale Constable Danny Wilcox had his car taken away by the county Board of Supervisors last year after he was found driving it for personal use--specifically, going to a convenience store and a wedding.

"The bad publicity we've had has killed us," Jim Jones says.
It may kill the office.

The constables exist by way of the Arizona Constitution, which states that everywhere there is a justice court, there is a constable.

But if the counties receive the right to draft their own charters through a proposal known as "home rule," constables will likely cease to be an elected post. Their fate will land in the hands of the county Board of Supervisors.

Tom Rawles, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, insists that he hasn't yet made up his mind on the issue of constables. However, Rawles also doesn't see the point in electing people for a job that's not a policy-making position.

"I look at elections as opportunities for people to discuss and decide issues," says Rawles. "What are the issues with a constable?"

Much like the sheriff, constables don't answer to the supervisors or anyone else. They are accountable, in effect, to no one except the voters, who sadly aren't always up to speed on candidates at the end of the ballot.

But somebody's got to do the job, which is a lingering problem in Maricopa County's budget crisis. As justice courts increase in size, the service business is booming. And it can only get bigger: Tentative plans would boost the maximum damages allowable in cases before a justice of the peace from $5,000 to $7,500, which would bring more cases before them.

In the absence of constables, their duties would likely be farmed out to sheriff's deputies and an ever-shrinking county staff. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio already has filed suit against the Board of Supervisors because of its cuts to his department.

Meanwhile, Rawles gave the constables kudos for becoming "more team players" during the county's budget blood bath last year. The board has no power to adjust constables' salaries, which are set by the legislature, but did cut the constables' only administrator and all of their staff except two deputy constables who rotate to fill absences.

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