Comment Rescue–Jud Opines

Dear Friends, I am enjoying tremendously researching and following the fluid action on the Sussex County Sheriff. Many of you have provided me with input. I have received over 600 e-mails so far about the issue from an eclectic group of folks- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. So far the sentiment is running about 3 to 1 in favor of the Sheriff and his deputies having arrest powers. Ironically, the actual move to remove all the Sheriff’s existing powers and relegate him legally to only a process server, has come initially from the Sussex County Council of which the majority is made up of Conservative Republicans with one liberal democrat joining in the 5 to 0 unanimous vote. Even more amazing is the charge to eliminate the Sheriff’s remaining powers at Legislative Hall in Dover is now being led and embraced by the Republicans. The conflict is simple– The Constitution says one thing (Sheriff’s are Conservators of the Peace), the state law says something else, “Sheriff’s” are not included as Peace Offcers and not allowed to receive certified police training. Interestingly, Delaware State Police are also labeled “Conservator’s of the Peace”. Conservatives ( most Republicans) usually believe in the power of the constitution, however, the Delaware Republicans are doing otherwise with the Democrats cleverly waiting in the wings to, in the 11th hour, help pass the bill, while the Repubs will all face primaries and be blamed for their traitorous, anti-conservative actions, once the bill is passed. What a paradox, folks ! Right now the bill has been tabled, because the Repubs are concerned, after innumerable phone calls and lobbying from the Sussex Republican leadership, that they might be thrown out of office because of threatened primaries, are now looking to the Supreme Court to give them an opinion. However, the bill will come back, because it is unlikely the Court will grant an opinion without a law suit. Please find attached a WBOC article describing how Sussex County Sheriff Christopher asked for the legislature to clarify his role. He, of course, did not expect House Bill 290–which would take away any established powers he already had by statue as per Delaware law. Never a dull moment in Sussex County, Delaware. ***Open the attachment if you are interested and read the article. Your comments are welcome. Stay tuned for updates as the saga continues. Yours truly, JUDSON Bennett-Coastal Network ***PS, If you would like to see the article attached to my e-mail, please e-mail me at

13 thoughts on “Comment Rescue–Jud Opines”

  1. Some observations and questions:

    From what I’ve seen, it appears that the root cause of concern is the scope of activity of the Sheriff’s office and possible liability issues. The solution to that problem somehow evolved into an effort by legislators to fundamentally alter the inherent powers of the office, rather than exercising an easier and less controversial means of curbing the aforesaid.

    It is stands to reason that an elected Sheriff should be vested with the powers to necessary to keep the peace, including that of arrest, so, without changing those fundamental and long recognized powers, is it not possible for the Council to defund what they deem to be extraneous activity by the Sheriff’s office? To be clear, I am not well-educated on the intricacies of Sussex County Government, but surely there are some alternative means to reaching an equitable agreement among the disputants in this conflict.

    Additionally, are the calls for formal training of armed officers of the County not prudent and reasonable requests? Also, is a proactive Sheriff that steps into a law enforcement role upon citizen request truly anything to be concerned about?

    For those who rightfully worry about a Sheriff’s office that may overstep its bounds, as we should worry about any government office that has the potential to trample the liberties of the people, there are checks and balances in place. The General Assembly and Governor are vested with the power to dismiss Sheriffs, and other officers of the State, under Article III Section 13 of the State Constitution, and also with the power to impeach under Article VI. To me, these appear to be prudent and sufficient counterbalances to the office in question.

    Finally, there seems to be some sort of disconnect between legislators, in the both the Council and GA, and a sizable portion of their constituents in Sussex and elsewhere. Is it a lack of adequate communication? Or something else entirely? I’m not sure what can be done about this. I’d like to hear from anyone with an opinion on the subject, particularly those from Sussex, why they think there exists such a gap between the electorate and their representatives, and what can be done about it.

  2. The Constitution says one thing (Sheriff’s are Conservators of the Peace)…

    Can our state legislators not comprehend what they read? Are they too stupid to understand the term ‘Conservators of the Peace?’

    …the state law says something else…

    Then the state law, being contrary to the Delaware Constitution, is illegitimate.

  3. Sam Chick writes: “The General Assembly and Governor are vested with the power to dismiss Sheriffs, and other officers of the State, under Article III Section 13 of the State Constitution, and also with the power to impeach under Article VI.”

    Can the Delaware legislature redefine, by simple statute, the powers of the Governor and take that power away from the Governor? Beau Biden’s AG office wrote in February that the meaning of the offices is a matter of common law, and the legislature can ALWAYS change the common law rules at any time. So following Beau Biden’s office’s philosophy (Beau didn’t sign the Opinion himself, unfortunately) the legislature can redefine what a Governor means, what dismiss means, what impeach means, etc., so that only the legislature can do this and the Governor cannot.

    Let’s say that the Governor is driving to attend the first day fo the opening of the legislature and he is speeding and he is pulled over by the State Police for speeding. And he sends a threatening email to the Delaware State Police. Can the legislature take away the powers of the Governor that might be seen as intimidating the DSP? Can the legislature redefine the meaning of the Governor’s powers to make signing a bill passed by the legislature a mere formality, so that bills become law even if the Governor objects?

  4. Jon, certainly not, in my opinion. If the construction of constitutional terms were as permutable as the whims of those who happen to be in power at a given moment, what purpose would there be to having any sort of written constitution? It would a meaningless decoration carrying no power of restraint or definition of the conduct of the government.

    Considering the quotation above your comments, do you believe this relates somehow to those sections of Delaware’s Constitution and the powers therein? Apart from that question, what other lawful checks do you see the legislative powers, whether in County Council or the General Assembly, having at their disposal when it comes to reaching a resolution in this?

  5. “Sheriff’s are Conservators of the Peace”

    Ditto the Chancellor
    Ditto Judges
    Ditto AG

    I wonder if the term means the same thing for all of them or does it depend on the office? Either a term has a precise definition or it is situational/contextual and depends the holder of the title. So for judges, conservators of the peace means speed patrol on 113? Common sense says it doesn’t but where is that common sense codified? Short answer is that it is not codified and it is based on laws passed by the GA. If someone wants to mount a constitutional challenge to those laws to the supreme court, that is their right. Until then, the GA has the authority create standards that protect the citizens.

  6. Well, the Delaware Constitution BOTH uses the term “Sheriff” and “Conservator of the Peace.”

    I keep saying that the people who wrote the Delaware Constitution had something in mind when they chose those words.

    I DON’T KNOW what they were thinking. And, frankly, for the reason that Sam Chick identifies, I don’t care. My opinion in 2012 is and should be irrelevant, not because it is me but because the relevant definition is when the Constitution was written, not now in 2012.

    SO the question is what did “Sheriff” mean at the time the Constitution was written? What did “Conservator of the Peace” mean at that time?

    You say welll there were several Constitutions. No worries. The law considers the process of later adoption of a previous document. Both are relevant. Did the later drafters adopt and accept the earlier version or were they attempting to depart from the earlier version? You look at that. Does the later version evidence an intent to CHANGE from the earlier version on that point or to ADOPT the earlier meaning and continue it?

    What is a Sheriff? Hell, I don’t know. You have to go back and look at the experience in the Delaware/ Pennsylvania colony (colonies) at that period of time and the later State of Delaware.

    What is a “Conservator of the Peace?” Crimminy. I never heard of one before. Hanged if I know.

    But those terms had to means SOMETHING to the people who wrote them down. What did those terms mean to them?

    THey did not write “The [wild card] shall be [fill in the blank.]”

    A Constitution cannot be a blank check…. or our liberties are doomed.

  7. Well then Jon you’ll have to get in your “way back machine” and ask them, because they did not make it clear in the constitution.
    Dave you are correct. Jon has tried to make the point that the phrase C O P ment a certain thing when the constitution was written and can never change based on what the term ment in 1897. However the same phrase was used for the A G and the Chancellary. If as Jon would have us believe C O P had one meaning at the time the ink dried, then it must mean the same for all of those offices. But wait Delaware code defines those other offices and bno one cares.
    Makes one believe that this issue is more about one man then it is about the office of sheriff.

  8. Frank, the meaning of the constitution must be read as of the date it was signed. Of course the meaning of the term in every day life may change, but the meaning of the Constitution has to be read as it was intended when written. Otherwise, the Constitution means nothing at all.

    Again, I don’t know or care what “Sheriff” or “Conservator of the Peace” means in today’s Delaware Constitution or what it meant back then. But it does bother me to watch people take a step off the edge of the slippery slope towards words mean nothing at all because words mean anything at all, and therefore neither law nor the Constitution has any actual meaning. It is whatever you can get enough votes for today. Stay tuned. Different result tomorrow.

    Yes, the structural analysis is you engage is exactly correct. Comparing different parts of the same document and reading it as a whole (not piecemeal) is one important tool for understanding its meaning. Whatever COP meant for one it must mean for all. (Although there may be reasonable variations. One can be a doctor in the emergency room which would be very different from a doctor in a cosmetic surgery boutique.)

    But think about that: THe Delaware Constitution “defines” — OR DOES IT??? — all of those different offices as C O P.

    So therefore, all those offices are precisely identically the same thing? IF they are all DEFINED AS Conservator of the Peace, then THEY MUST ALL BE EXACTLY THE SAME.

    That assumption collapses all of those different offices into sameness. So Judge = AG = legislator = Sheriff = Conservator of the Peace.


    Reasoning from the same structural analysis (reading the document as a whole) we can plainly see that

    Judge = Judge AND ALSO Conservator of the Peace
    AG = AG AND ALSO Conservator of the Peace
    Sheriff = Sheriff ANd ALSO Conservator of the Peace.


    Judge = Conservator of the Peace = Sheriff
    Judge = Sheriff

    Attorney General = Conservator of the Peace = Sheriff
    Sheriff = Attorney General

    No, HOGWASH….

    The Constitution is saying that “whatever else each office my be, these officials CAN ALSO ACT AS “Conservator of the Peace”

    So the AG has the duities and powers of AG, but can also act as a Conservator of the Peace.

    A judge has the duties and powers of a judge, but can also act as a Conservator of the Peace.

    A Sheriff has the duties and powers of a Sheriff (whatever those are, hell if I know or care), but can also act as a Conservator of the Peace.

    A Sheriff does NOT equal “Conservator of the Peace”

    A Sheriff is ALSO a “Conservator of the Peace”

  9. Every little town in Sussex County has it’s own police force. We also have state troopers. We also have task forces and joint task forces galore, all with paramilitary capabilities, and let’s not forget homeland security. Why would we need another police force?
    Maybe the sheriff and his boys should receive some basic training to protect themselves, and maybe some basic first aid training. Anything else is redundant and a waste of tax payers money.

  10. Let me add DNREC and Federal game wardens to that list. They also have arrest powers.

  11. Say you have two little kids fighting over a chocolate bar. You step in and suggest that they split the chocolate bar. They split the chocolate bar and go on their merry way.
    You have conserved the piece in this instance, and therefore you are a “conservator of the piece.”
    You can be a pencil pusher or a process server, and what you are doing is contributing toward the conservation of the piece. You don’t have to have the power to arrest to be considered a “conservator of the piece”.

  12. Yes, FBH, every counselor and mediator and social worker and pastor can be a “conservator of the peace” because “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Obviously, it begs the question.

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