2 constables file lawsuit against sheriff over lost work

Two constables have filed a civil lawsuit against Lycoming County Sheriff Mark Lusk claiming he doesn’t have the authority to deny them work in the county.

The general allegation outlined in Chad Riley and Mark Phillips’ lawsuit is that Lusk doesn’t have the jurisdiction over constables and their work by law. But the issue was first aired by the constables at a county commissioners meeting in May.

Riley and Phillips argued then that they were wrongfully and unconstitutionally fired without reason. Because there was no reason given, it led them to think it had been politically motivated because of Riley’s unsuccessful run against Lusk in the primary with Phillips’ outward support.

The suit recently filed in Lycoming County Court explains that shortly after being elected to office, Lusk sent communication to all six magisterial courts in the county, indicating that all warrants would be issued from the Sheriff’s office. Prior to that, constables would commonly be given warrant work.

After Riley lost to Lusk in the Republican primary, Lusk allegedly called Riley to tell him he wasn’t going to get work from his office moving forward.

Soon after that, Phillips was called and told he was “no longer needed,” according to the suit.

Throughout the two pages of complaints in the file, a distinction is made between a constable and the sheriff’s office.

“A constable is an elected official authorized to appoint deputy constables,” according to the suit. “A constable is an independent contractor and is not an employee of the Commonwealth, the judiciary, the township or the county in which he/she works.”

Phillips was elected by the people of Old Lycoming Township. Riley was appointed by President Judge Nancy L. Butts. And according to Pennsylvania law, constables are part of the executive branch of government while the sheriff’s office is not.

“Constables are elected by the people of the local borough or township, or appointed by the President Judge and not subject to the will of the County Sheriff … the Sheriff of Lycoming County has no jurisdiction over constables and their work,” according to the suit.

Because constables belong to the executive branch of government, they are answerable to the governor of Pennsylvania, according to constablepa.us. And although they commonly perform services to the courts, they don’t belong to the judicial branch.

Constables may be given work maintaining order at election polls, providing courtroom security or prisoner transport, civil work or work serving writs, arrest warrants, levies and collecting fines. They are required to maintain training and education in the field.

A sheriff isn’t able to strip constables of their elected positions and they still could get civil work through county magistrates. But Riley said at least 80 percent of a constable’s work in Lycoming County comes from the sheriff’s office.

Lusk declined to comment.