HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Constables across Pennsylvania are frustrated that numerous courts across the state routinely fail to pay them; so frustrated, that one constable has taken the unusual step of suing a district judge saying she refuses to pay up.
The lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court by constable David Kneller of Lebanon County. It alleges that Harrisburg District Judge Marsha Stewart has stiffed him of nearly $10,000 over the past two years. The suit contains dozens of pages of unpaid fees as proof.
“We are seeking an extraordinary remedy here, one doesn’t often sue members of the judiciary,” said Kneller’s attorney, Brian Caffrey of the Scaringi and Scaringi Law Firm.
It is exceedingly rare to sue a judge. Rarer still is winning such a suit.
“Everybody is subject to the law,” Caffrey said with conviction.
Caffrey cited the law and says it’s plain and clear: constables are to be paid by the court within 30 days of doing the work.
Dauphin County’s First Assistant District Attorney Fran Chardo says the law isn’t so clear.
“This is an expense created by the person with the parking ticket, not by the taxpayers,” Chardo said. “The taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for this.”
Chardo says it’s Dauphin County’s policy to collect from the criminal before paying the constable.
“That’s an interesting notion,” said Caffrey. “But there’s a specific statute which provide for this. It is mandatory. It is clear and it provides for prompt payment.”
The problem is that many counties including Dauphin don’t have a pot of cash set aside to pay off constables, so it would ultimately cost taxpayers if sufficient fees aren’t collected from the defendant. It is estimated that over the past decade constables are owed $750,000 by Dauphin County.
“The basic charge for a warrant is $27.50,” said Ian Castaneira with the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Constables. “We’re basically risking our lives for $27.50.”
Constables don’t get salaries, pensions or benefits. They’re paid specific fees for specific jobs, $27.50 for serving warrants. They say too many judges across the state owe them money but they typically keep quiet because district judges control a constable’s work flow.
“If a constable fights about not being paid, or something inappropriate is going on in the judge’s office, the judge can say, ‘fine, you win the battle but you’ve lost the war because now you’re not getting any more work.’ ” Castaneira said.
But constables are silent no more.
Though Kneller’s lawsuit pertains to one constable and one judge, courts and counties across the commonwealth are watching the case.
It could prove costly to them, too.