Constable Trouble

Tolleson Justice of the Peace Joe Guzman says Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox personally delivered a message to his office last November 20. It concerned her brother-in-law Danny Wilcox, an elected constable assigned to Guzman's court.

Guzman says the message was direct: "Mrs. Wilcox informed my assistant that Constable Wilcox was ill and would be out for two to four weeks. She said she'd made arrangements for a deputy constable to cover for him. That was it. It's been more than three months, and I still haven't heard a thing from Danny. It's a mystery."

Several people say Danny Wilcox is suffering from a mental disorder, and cite his inability to cope with the violent death of one of his children several years ago. Those close to the situation say Wilcox is under a doctor's orders not to drive an automobile.

His personal difficulties have raised several questions, including what to do with a $44,170-a-year elected official who apparently can't do his job but continues to collect a paycheck.

The unfortunate events have put a strain on Judge Guzman's court, and on some of the county's 20 other constables, who have had to pick up the slack created by Wilcox's absence.

Constables work with lower-court judges, serving legal documents such as notices to appear in court. They are sworn officers who also evict renters and serve writs for collection. Last year, the Tolleson court--which includes parts of Phoenix, Avondale and Cashion--handled more than 2,500 cases.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors controls the county constables' $1.2million budget. But, under the law, the constables are accountable to no one but the voters.

"They are executive branch employees, but aren't under anyone's specific supervision," says Robert Myers, presiding judge of Maricopa County Superior Court. "This raises dilemmas on several levels."

A little-known Arizona law says an office is considered vacant if its holder ceases "to discharge the duties of office for a period of three consecutive months"--which would apply in Danny Wilcox's case. But a 1970 Arizona appellate case involving a justice of the peace said there must be a "judicial declaration or adjudication" before the vacancy provision kicks in. It's unclear what a judicial declaration must say, or to whom it must be said.

Myers says Guzman called him last week to discuss Danny Wilcox. Myers in turn informed county administrator David Smith.

"I can't make a declaration of a vacancy by myself," Myers says. "I asked David if he can convince the board to get help for the Tolleson court. Judge Guzman apparently has had to rely on the beneficence of the other constables."

Guzman says: "Deputy constable [Kevin] Jones handled most everything for a while, but he's from the east side, and he hasn't been able to come out here much for a while. We're getting way behind in serving our paperwork. People are complaining right and left, and I don't blame them for being upset."

Chandler-area constable Jim Jones, who heads the county's constable association, says he's looking for someone to take over Wilcox's responsibilities.

"We've kept thinking Danny is coming back to work," Jones says, "and now I've been told unofficially that it will be four to six weeks more. I'm told that a doctor is governing his life at the moment."

Ed King, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, says he, too, has spoken with administrator David Smith. He says Smith is considering remedies.

This isn't the first time Danny Wilcox has made news. In July 1994, Wilcox turned in his county car after a private investigator videotaped him using it for personal business. The bad publicity apparently didn't hurt Wilcox--the Democrat easily won a fourth term over a Libertarian opponent.

Danny Wilcox could not be reached for comment.
County supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Tom Rawles did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin