Tag Archives: justices of the peace

Biting my tongue regarding constables

I made the acquaintance today of a young man whose job causes the hair on the back of my neck to bristle … and I mean no disrespect to the individual himself, as he is a nice, earnest and dedicated public servant.

Or so I will presume for the moment.

He serves as a constable in Collin County. I won’t identify him just yet; that might come later if I choose to write any more about this matter.

You see, I have long had bur under my saddle about constables. I dislike the office. I have lived in communities as disparate as Beaumont and Amarillo that have had regrettable experiences with constables.

To be candid, I believe the elected office is superfluous. State law empowers constables to issue civil papers; that’s their primary task. They issue papers, such as eviction notices or court summonses. They also provide courtroom security for justices of the peace. And, yes, they have the authority to make traffic stops or assist police when the need arises.

However, as I have noted before, these duties can be done by sheriff’s deputies. Or by municipal police officers.

When I was working in journalism for many years I had the chance to comment on constable goings-on. In Jefferson County, for instance, voters elected a constable who wasn’t certified by the appropriate Texas law enforcement authorities. He vowed to obtain his certification — eventually! He failed to meet the deadline and was removed from office.

Potter County had a constable who didn’t do any work. It had another constable who enjoyed acting the part of dedicate law enforcement official, but fell far short of actually doing the duty.

In Randall County, there was a constable who pledged to surrender his office because there wasn’t enough work, only to think twice about it. He stayed on the job and battled county commissioners over his salary. Then Randall County voters elected a constable who campaigned on the pledge to not to do any work, enabling the county over time to disband the office. He then was gerrymandered out of office after the 2010 census was completed.

I still dislike the constable’s office. It is unnecessary. It also has a powerful lobby in Austin that fights for constables and justices of the peace.

I wish my new acquaintance well as he performs his constable duties. However, I would cheer loudly if the Texas Legislature ever finds the guts to get rid of the elected public office.

Confusion has a strangely familiar Texas feel to it


Antonin Scalia’s tragic death in far West Texas has taken on an air of weirdness that somehow only seems possible in this state.

The U.S. Supreme Court justice — the senior member of the nation’s highest court — died in Marfa while on a hunting vacation.

How did he die? It seems that a justice of the peace issued a cause of death without ever seeing the late justice’s body. There also was a significant amount of time before anyone was able to contact a JP to make the pronouncement in the first place.

As the Washington Post reported, Justice Scalia’s life was one of order, process and decorum. The hours after his sudden and shocking death have been an exercise in confusion and chaos, the Post reported.

These rather startling circumstances bring to mind some of the criticisms that have been leveled at this level of Texas jurisprudence — and I use the term loosely.

It’s that justices of the peace are empowered to make these declarations with little or no actual medical training to do so. We put this responsibility in the hands of elected politicians who, as often as not, are laypeople with little or no formal training in the law, let alone in medicine.

What’s worse in this instance is that the JP allegedly made the call in absentia. How in the world does someone do that? How is it possible that the death of a member of the United States Supreme Court can be handled so sloppily and be the subject of so much confusion?

Only in Texas, it seems, is such a thing even remotely possible.

I am sensing an investigation into the madness that ensued after Justice Scalia’s death is in order.



Constables: Who needs ’em?


Chris Johnson’s campaign signs are popping up all over southern Amarillo.

He is spending a good bit of dough seeking re-election to one of the more curious public offices I’ve ever seen.

He won’t get my vote. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson. I don’t know him. I’ve never had any dealings with him.

He’s a constable in Randall County, Texas.

Constable. What is that? He’s a politician/cop whose duties include (a) serving papers, such as subpoenas and summonses and (b) providing security for justice of the peace courts.

Let me stipulate a couple of things here.

One is that I’ve had a longstanding antipathy toward the very idea of electing constables. Why? We don’t need them. My wish would be for the Texas Legislature to propose a state constitutional amendment to do away with the office. The duties done by the constable can be done by sheriff’s deputies or municipal police officers.

But no-o-o-o-o! We’ve got to have another elected official assigned to do these things.

The other thing is that during my nearly 32 years living in Texas, I’ve voted for one man as a constable. Jeff Lester used to hold the office that Johnson now occupies. Lester, who retired recently from the Amarillo Police Department, ran for the office with one pledge: to get rid of it.

He held the title of constable, but didn’t do anything. He didn’t get paid. He referred all the duties to the sheriff’s department. He wanted to keep the office inactive long enough to enable the Randall County Commissioners Court to abolish the office, which state law empowers it to do after a period of time had lapsed.

Then came reapportionment after the 2010 census had been completed. The county had to redraw political boundaries based on shifts in population as required by state law. County commissioners then reapportioned Lester out of the precinct he had served as constable, meaning he couldn’t run for re-election.

That’s when Johnson ran — and won.

I must reiterate that I have nothing personal against Constable Johnson. It’s the office he holds that bugs the bejeebers out of me.

I get that some counties have a need for constables. The experience in Randall and Potter counties, though, has been spotty at best. We’ve elected constables who haven’t done anything while drawing their salaries. One Potter County constable — who’s since resigned — would suit up in all the gear and the requisite hardware just to serve legal papers.

I’m digging deep trying to remember a time I’ve ever heard of a constable in this part of the state making an arrest, or being involved in a high-profile criminal activity. Have I been asleep all these years?

So, I guess that Constable Johnson will get re-elected this year. Good for him. I’ll kick in my piddling portion to help pay his salary, although I won’t like doing it.

In this era when people say they’re sick of government inefficiency, I keep wondering: Where is the anger over paying for a superfluous law enforcement entity that — from my vantage point — need not exist?

We have plenty of county and municipal law enforcement personnel who are quite capable of doing the constables’ job.