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Legislator drafts bill to govern constables

The push for uniform laws follows scandals alleging misconduct by elected officials.

HARRISBURG - A state lawmaker is pushing for legislation he describes as a first step toward addressing the training, equipment, and supervisory shortcomings in the state's troubled constable system.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks) recently introduced a bill that would assemble in one place the myriad state laws that govern constables. The 56-page bill also would repeal laws with archaic references related to constables, including one dating to 1799.

Once that codification is accomplished, Caltagirone said, he will address the qualifications for office and guidelines for the job.

"I am committed to trying to upgrade the professionalism of the constables and make it a more meaningful law enforcement body and a judicial process-server body," he said yesterday. "This is the first, first step. I don't think there's going to be much controversy around this piece of legislation as much as what may follow. And I don't know what will follow."

The state's 1,200 constables serve warrants, transport prisoners, and perform other jobs for district courts throughout the state. Most are independently elected, though some are appointed to fill vacancies or as deputy constables in busy areas.

Constables operate on a pay-for-service basis for the courts, and as such have limited supervision and accountability.

In Montgomery County, former West Conshohocken constable Michael Solow reached a deal in March that averted a trial on charges he abused his power. Solow was suspended in 2007 after complaints that he evicted a family without cause and conducted an illegal search. He had filed a petition to run for the position again, but the agreement barred him from doing that.

And ousted deputy constable Steven D. Sokoloff of Ardmore was barred from running for a constable position in the county after a series of allegations that he had abused his power, including a complaint that he had shackled an auto dealer in front of customers in Norristown for failure to pay a parking ticket that wasn't his. Sokoloff defied the order and ran for constable in Lower Merion in the May primary, and was nominated with just more than 31 percent of the vote, according to the county's election Web site.

An Associated Press series last summer described dozens of examples of constable misconduct over the preceding decade. Caltagirone has cited the series as a motivation for seeking the changes.