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.

At the same time, Chief Justice Stanley Feldman is leading the charge to reorganize the court system, which some speculate will corral the constables into a more centralized court, rather than their remaining in separate districts.

Until then, the constables are on their own, enforcing the law of the court in their individual corners of the world.

At 68, West Phoenix Constable E.T. Hernandez presides over what is reportedly the roughest, toughest justice court in Phoenix. He has a gun, a badge, a cowboy hat and an agent--his budding acting career includes credits in local theatre, a few commercials and bit parts in three feature films.

Hernandez appears to know everyone in west Phoenix, where some folks say they made him constable as a matter of practicality since he's out and about every day, and in everyone's business, anyway.

Hernandez stands five feet, four inches tall--about five feet, seven inches with the black cowboy hat--and sees himself as a mediator. As an act of faith, his home phone number is on his business cards. He also discreetly collects and delivers clothes to constituents in need.

"I think regardless of what you do, you can reach people a whole lot better with a smile than with a growl," he says, expounding his philosophy.

"This job is tailor-made for me. I'm kind of like a doorknob in the community--I try to open doors."

Hernandez operated a paving company until being appointed constable in 1986, when the previous constable retired. He's been on the Isaac School Board since then, too, and active in the community for longer than anyone, including he, can remember.

He's been reelected twice and pays little attention to the periodic allegations seemingly every constable faces about misuse of the county car or how much time he spends on the clock.

"I have two Mercedes, a Volvo, a motor home and a pickup. Why should I want to drive the county car?" he says.

Hernandez's war stories may not be better than anyone else's, but his delivery makes them seem that way.

Once, he recalls, he had to serve an Order of Protection on "a big guy with bikes out front."

"I told him to get his personal belongings and leave the premises," Hernandez says.

"`Who's going to make me?'" the man asked.
"`I'm not,'" Hernandez said. "`But I'm asking you. And somebody's going to make you, anyway.'

"He called me everything but a nice Mexican, so I followed him back into the house, because you never know what he's going to come out with, and he finally left."

Hernandez told the man to call him in a couple days, when he cooled off. Then he'd let him back in the house to retrieve his things. Instead, Hernandez got a call the next morning. The man wanted to meet him at a coffee shop.

The wary constable entered through the back and wasn't sure what to expect, but it definitely wasn't what he saw.

"You could tell right off that he'd been crying all night long. Told me he loved his wife, loved his kids, been married 19 years and so on. He wanted to go talk to his wife.

"I said no," Hernandez remembers.
But he did call the man's wife, who wanted to see her husband, so he took the man back to the house with him.

"The guy got down on his knees," Hernandez remembers. "He was crying, she was crying, the kids were crying and by that time I was crying."

They all went to see the judge, who rescinded the order.
Another woman called Hernandez in the middle of the night and reported that her husband had come back after he was ordered out. Hernandez called the police, but somehow the codes got mixed up and the call was broadcast as an "officer in trouble."

"It looked like a circus when I got there," Hernandez says. "The guy had tried to come in through a window. But there were cops everywhere."

The guy never tried again.
"We all have our faults," Hernandez says. "It doesn't mean we're bad people. I don't fear because my best partner walks behind me all the time--I'm a very firm believer in the Lord."

Some say the constables might have a brighter future if they took on a slightly different role. One such is Adelita Villegas, who has taken it on herself to shepherd her "clients" through the judicial and social systems. Villegas, whose jurisdiction is primarily older neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix, has become something of a housing advocate.

On a particularly chilly winter day, Villegas searches the brick exterior of an apartment complex on Thomas Road for unit numbers. The landlord wants to be rid of some tenants--now. Constable Villegas is here to serve papers from the East Phoenix Justice Court evicting them for nonpayment of rent. The tenants have 24 hours to move out.

Dressed in a long, gold sweater over white stretch pants, Villegas plods across soggy grass to the apartment in question. She is worlds away from the "get your toothbrush" school of eviction.

A curly mane of black hair frames Villegas' face, which looks much younger than her 41 years and much softer than that of Jim Jones' hero John Wayne. Villegas doesn't listen to the police radio in her car because it's distracting and, frankly, annoying.

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