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State officer, although he cannot make arrests or seize property beyond his own county. He is the arm of the law for that county, however, and conditions might arise under which the aid of the President and Nation might be invoked. As for the force that the sheriff may draw upon, if necessary, for the suppression of disorder in a single locality, it is practically unlimited and irresistible. It rises from the posse comitatus or "power of the county,” to the State militia, or even to the full power of the regular army.
The sheriff is the ministerial officer of the county courts, and serves all legal processes issuing therefrom. He has charge of the county jail, and is required to receive and safely keep all persons duly committed to his custody until they are lawfully discharged. He preserves order at the sittings of the county court, and carries out the decisions therein rendered. Under proper warrant from the Governor, he executes criminals condemned to death penalty. If a taxpayer refuses to pay his taxes on real estate after assessment and demand by the proper officers, the sheriff may seize the property and expose it for sale, and deduct taxes. and legal expenses from the proceeds. The sheriff also sells property for debt, when judgment has been given by court and execution issued therefrom. He has charge of the jury wheel, and assists in drawing the juries. He summons witnesses and jurors. By means of advertisements in newspapers and by posted notices, he makes proclamation of general elections.
The sheriff cannot serve two successive terms. Since the nature of his office requires that he should deal with large sums of money, he is placed under heavy bonds, varying according to the population of the county. His salary is usually the largest paid to county officers.
The Prothonotary.—This county officer is the clerk of the court of common pleas—the civil court. He is the custodian of the records of the court, and all judgments and mechanics' liens are recorded by him. The prothonotary has charge of the seal of the court, and affixes it to all writs, processes, and documents that require it. He makes an annual report to the secretary of the Commonwealth, showing the number and nature of criminal cases tried, the acquittals and convictions. He administers the oaths and affirmations to jurors, witnesses, and others in conducting the business of his office. He keeps the register of physicians, and the record of all naturalizations. The returns of city, county, State, and National elections are made to him and filed in his office. He makes a certified copy of the election returns, except that of the city, and transmits it to the secretary of the Commonwealth.
The Clerk of the Courts.—This officer is usually clerk of the court of quarter sessions and the court of oyer and terminer—the criminal courts. He attends all sessions of the courts, and makes a detailed record of the proceedings. He calls before the court the jurors and witnesses, and administers the prescribed oaths. The business of the court of quarter sessions, relating to the opening of streets and roads and the granting of liquor licenses, is in his charge. The returns of township and borough elections are filed in his office, and certificates of election are issued to successful candidates, except justices and aldermen, who are commissioned by the Governor.
Register of Wills.—This official records all wills when they are probated, that is, proven to be the lawful acts of the deceased persons who are asserted to have made them. The settlement of an estate is under the supervision of the orphans' court. The register of wills appoints administrators on the estates of persons who have died intestate, that is, without leaving wills. Executors and administrators consult him in regard to the performance of their duties, and are required to report to him the final settlements of estates.
Recorder of Deeds.—One of the most important officials in his relation to the people is the recorder of deeds. All papers used in making transfers of real property, or in placing liens or mortgages upon it, the law requires to be recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds. Such papers are called deeds, mortgages, liens, contracts, and partnership agreements according to their nature, and are often of the greatest importance in determining property rights. The time of recording the papers is so important that each paper is marked with the exact day of presentation. Mortgages are even marked with the exact hour of presentation, since claims of right often rank according to their priority.
Clerk of the Orphans' Court.—The duties of this officer are indicated by his title. In most counties the office is joined with that of the register of wills or the clerk of the courts. Originally, all the courts sitting in the same county had always the same clerk. In many counties the offices of register of wills and recorder of deeds are filled by the same person. In some of the smaller counties, all the clerical duties are performed by one man as prothonotary, clerk of the courts, clerk of the orphans' court, register of wills, and recorder of deeds.
District Attorney.—The agent of the State in bringing persons accused of crimes to trial is the district attorney. He prepares the indictments and submits them to the grand jury, together with the evidence to substantiate the charges. If a “true bill” is found by the grand jury, the district attorney becomes the prosecuting officer when the trial takes place. No person is eligible to this office unless he has been admitted to practice as an attorney in the courts of some county within the Commonwealth for at least two years preceding his election.
The County Treasurer.—This officer receives all State and county taxes, as well as fines and license fees. In some counties he is tax collector; in others he receives the proceeds from township tax collectors of all taxes levied for county and State purposes. He pays the State tax and other State moneys over to the State treasurer. He disburses the county funds upon warrants drawn by the county commissioners or other officers designated by law. His accounts are open to the inspection of the auditors or controller, and he must make regular financial reports to the county commissioners. The financial records of the county are preserved in his office. He cannot have two successive terms, and is under bonds for the faithful performance of his duties. In case of a vacancy in the office of county treasurer, the commissioners have power to appoint a suitable person.
The Auditors. These officers serve as guards over the treasury and every office in which public funds are handled, since accounts are kept in duplicate by individual departments. The auditors adjust the accounts of the treasurer, sheriff, commissioners, and every other officer who handles county funds. They report regularly to the State auditor the condition of the county finances. There are three auditors elected in a county at the same time, but no elector can vote for more than two of them (178). A vacancy in the office is filled by the court of common pleas.
In counties having 150,000 inhabitants or over, the powers of the auditors are vested in a county controller.
The Mercantile Appraiser.—This official is appointed annually by the county commissioners. He investigates the amount of sales made by dealers in merchandise, and classifies such dealers with reference to business licenses. These licenses are a special form of State tax. He receives a fee for each license issued. In Philadelphia, the appraisers are appointed by the auditor-general and the city treasurer (72).
The Coroner.—This officer holds a formal investigation over the body of any person who is suspected of having died by violence, or who has died in prison. Such proceeding is called an inquest. He summons a jury of six persons to assist him in his findings. His services are of great importance to society, both in bringing murderers to punishment and in protecting the innocent from accusation. In the absence of the coroner, the justice of the peace may hold an inquest. If the office of sheriff becomes vacant, the coroner performs the duties of that office until the Governor makes an appointment.
The County Solicitor.The commissioners appoint the county solicitor, who is the legal adviser of the county officers. He is empowered to act as counsel for the county in all civil suits to which it is a party.
County Surveyor.—This office is of small importance now as compared with former usefulness when the State owned large tracts of land, and the sales required the making of surveys. The principal duties of the surveyor now relate to the demarkation of boundary lines disputed in the courts. His services also secure accuracy and skill in the construction of roads and bridges. He issues maps of the county, and makes plots of the various surveys.
The Superintendent of Public Schools.—As his title im