Dallas County Constable Jaime Cortes will lose some deputy positions for the coming fiscal year because county officials said his office violated policy by serving civil papers outside his precinct to boost staffing.
Precinct 5 deputy constables have been driving to other precincts and even outside the county to serve civil papers, according to county officials and one of Cortes' former deputies.
"That's a waste of the public money," Commissioner Maurine Dickey said.
County policy requires constables to transfer such paperwork to the precinct in which the address is located. Officials say that is more efficient and saves time and fuel.
Constables have countywide jurisdiction and can go anywhere in the county to serve papers, such as subpoenas, writs, eviction notices and lawsuits. But county commissioners, who control the constables' budgets, can reduce their staff if they do so.
That is exactly what is happening for the 2010 fiscal year. A county budget office memo said Cortes and Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans each will lose eight civil deputy positions. Precinct 3 Constable Ben Adamcik will lose seven positions, and the other two constables, Roma Skinner and Michael Gothard, will each lose four.
The elimination of those 31 positions, most of which are vacant, will save the county $1.7 million, officials say. Not all the lost positions are directly tied to serving papers outside of constable boundaries.
Traveling outside precinct boundaries is part of a recent pattern among constables of inflating statistics to get more deputy positions, county officials say.
Until recently, constables are allotted deputy positions based on the number of civil papers they served. The more papers a constable served, the more deputies he or she got.
County Budget Director Ryan Brown said a recent audit conducted by his office found that Cortes' deputies were serving civil papers that should have been transferred. Brown said an average of about 1,600 papers per month didn't belong in Cortes' office.
He said the other constables were doing the same thing, but to a much smaller extent.
The audit was prompted by testimony during a June grievance hearing before the county's civil service commission involving a Precinct 5 deputy who had been fired.
Deputy Rodrick Samples, who has since been reinstated and transferred to another constable's office, told the commission - made up of Dickey and county commissioners Kenneth Mayfield and John Wiley Price - that Cortes ordered his deputies never to transfer civil papers.
Cortes said Thursday that he never gave such an order.
Cortes' precinct is primarily within the city of Dallas. Samples said during the hearing that he was regularly ordered to drive to Mesquite, Rowlett, Balch Springs, Sachse, Wiley and Plano to serve civil papers.
"I had an overload of papers," he said. "Everyone at the office was getting papers in different parts. Some guys were driving ... almost to Denton, serving papers."
"I have no idea why you'd be doing that," Mayfield said.
Cortes told the commission it would happen rarely and only if the document originated in his precinct and, after some research, another address was located. He told them he would make sure papers are transferred to the proper precinct in the future.
But Samples said Cortes ordered him and the other deputies during meetings not to transfer civil papers.
"No one's allowed to transfer papers," he told the commissioners. "We had to make the drive. We were not allowed to transfer papers."
"Well I'm telling you, that is unacceptable," Price replied. "No constable should be delivering outside of his precinct."
Brown said his office stopped using a formula to determine constable staffing last year after learning that constables were inflating their statistics.
For example, deputy constables who went to the office of CT Corp., a registered agent for hundreds of companies, to serve 50 lawsuits at once would count that as 50 papers served.
But county officials said it should be counted as only one service because the deputy went to a single location to serve all the papers at the same time. The county also said constables improperly included routine courthouse postings in their count of civil papers.
Cortes said be believes constables should get credit for each paper served at the same location and the same time because the county gets paid for each service.
Under the now-discarded staffing formula, constables received a deputy position for every 200 papers served per month.
"That lends itself to them not wanting to transfer papers. This will take that incentive away," Brown said.
Each precinct will now receive a fixed number of deputies, he said.
Adamcik said he is careful to make sure writs are transferred if they need to be.
"As a rule, if nothing pertains to our precinct, we will transfer it," he said.
Price said new satellite tracking devices installed in every constable vehicle will provide added oversight.