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County will take over local constable work

April 24, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The District Court of Maryland wants the Washington County Sheriff's Department to take over its local constable system, drawing the ire of some County Commissioners over the costs associated with the move.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades said by phone Friday that regardless of whether the commissioners agree with it, state law requires local sheriff's departments to pick up the duties.

"I think they were under the impression they're going to make the decision," Mades said Friday. "They don't."

"It's case law. It's already been decided," Mades said.

The state court has been phasing out its constable services throughout Maryland, he said.

With the recent death of one of the two constables who worked in Washington County District Court, the state court decided to drop the constable system here, he said.

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Constables obey the orders of district court judges and serve warrants, summonses and carry out other court duties.

Mades said the sheriff's department plans to take over the services on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Washington County is just one of two counties in Maryland in which the constable system still is in place, Mades said.

"If I start getting the papers, I got to serve it or I'm in contempt of court, not the County Commissioners," Mades said.

Mades said the cost of the sheriff's department taking over the duties will be nearly $96,000, but that the fees collected from those requiring the services of constables will make up for the expenses and generate a small profit.

The fees are set by the state.

The cost includes two contractual constable positions, an office associate and computer equipment.

Mades presented the commissioners with the information on Tuesday.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he thought the county should be able to set the fees charged to those who are served by a constable or require the services of a constable.

For example, in a rent dispute among landlord and tenants, the charge is $5 for every person who is served. Serving warrants is $30 for each service.

"Why would you want to take over something when you have no control over it at all?" Snook said.

"That's not a position I really want to put the county in," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he thought the county should hold off on taking over the services until it is forced by the state to do so.

"The court's going to order it anyway," County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

Mades told the commissioners he didn't need their permission to pick up the constable duties.

"I could've taken this over and not come here," Mades told the commissioners.

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