Director of Public Safety
Dismissal of Lawsuit
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Photos: From top to bottom, Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed, Delaware Attorney General M. Jane Brady, and Director of Public Safety James L. Ford.
Seeking to restore powers to the sheriff's office that he believes are Constitutionally guaranteed, Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed filed suit against Delaware Attorney General M. Jane Brady and the state's Secretary of Public Safety on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002.
The sheriff, who has been battling Sussex County Council and the state for the power for his deputies to act as police officers in addition to serving papers, named Brady and Director of Public Safety James L. Ford as defendants in his lawsuit, filed for him by Wilmington attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, Esq.
Brady said Tuesday afternoon that she had not been served with the suit but had seen a fax copy of it and would file a motion to dismiss after being served.
Kimberly Chandler, the Community Relations Coordinator for the Department of Public Safety, said Ford had no comment because he had not been served yet.
Ironically, Ford was not Secretary of the Department of Public Safety at the time Reed squared off with the department over issues such as emergency lights on sheriff vehicles in 2000. Brian J. Bushweller was the department's secretary at the time and ordered the removal of emergency lights.
The suit asks the Court of Chancery to enter a permanent injunction against the Attorney General's office and the Department of Public Safety and all of their officers and employees from interfering with:
It also seeks remuneration of court costs and attorney's fees and "other and further relief as is equitable, just and proper".
Brady, who said she couldn't think of any other instances when her office has been sued by an elected official, said she would seek to dismiss the suit because it infers powers on her office that it doesn't have.
"Whether he has a valid complaint or not, we are not the right place to sue," said Brady. "The flaw in this lawsuit is the presumption that I can in any way direct either the General Assembly or the Administration to act. They're independent of this office and have the prerogative to act on their own."
Brady said that Reed needs to approach the General Assembly to pass or revoke laws to give him the power he wants.
"Passing or revoking laws is not something this office (Attorney General) can give him (Reed)," said Brady, a former Chief Prosecutor in Sussex County.
In the suit, Sheriff Reed reiterated many of the claims he has made for more than a year in battling state agencies and county council.
The suit claims that the Delaware Constitution gives his office police powers and that he filed the suit because Sussex County citizens, seeking more police protection in the county now only served by the Delaware State Police and municipal departments, want his department to have police powers.
"Our forefathers realized the importance of having a county Conservator of the Peace (Sheriff) to ensure a balance in county government," said Reed in a statement. "This provides protection for the people and ensures their civil rights.
"Elected sheriffs are the people's voice for law enforcement," he added. "The complaint filed in court is not about a sheriff, but an effort to restore the people's rights regarding the sacred trust as defined by the Constitution and the belief that sheriffs nationwide provide citizens with security and balance in government. This fight is not only important for us today, but is critical for the protection and security of our children and our grandchildren."
Neuberger, Reed's attorney, cited 1,000 years of Sheriffs having the power to maintain the peace and make arrests in English common law as one reason for the Court of Chancery to grant Reed's requests.
Neuberger said the Brady and Ford have forgotten the Delaware Constitution.
"So Sheriff Reed has appealed to the Court of Chancery to affirm his historical power to prevent crime and protect the public," said Neuberger. "We expect that just as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did just a few years ago for their sheriffs, our courts will resolve this dispute and affirm the historical and Constitutional powers of the Sussex County Sheriff."
The issue over Sheriff Reed's powers came to a head in October 2000 when Bushweller, then Secretary of Public Safety, ordered the removal of emergency lights from all five sheriff vehicles.
When that order wasn't complied with, the Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the registrations of sheriff vehicles, forcing the sheriff to remove the lights from two vehicles for serving papers.
A Republican, Reed has also battled county council over issues such as training and deputy pay.
To file his suit, Reed and some Sussex County citizens who sided with him established a legal defense fund to pay for attorney's expenses to file a suit.
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