Local News

Story published: 02-26-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Power struggle over security at Justice Center

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

A candid conversation on courtroom security at the George P. Jaynes Justice Center last week revealed something of a power struggle between the judges and the sheriff on who has the final word.

A number of recent incidents were discussed during the Feb. 21 meeting of the Justice Center Task Force.

County Attorney John Rambo offered a draft of a document that addresses firearms, courtroom access, and the interaction of judges and bailiffs.

“I thought the judges were most concerned about No. 3,” said Robert “Don” Arnold, newly appointed General Sessions Court judge.

Arnold was referring to the proposed procedure in the event of an insufficient number of courtrooms being available.

The first floor grand jury room, the second floor jury room and the second floor judges’ conference room are proposed as additional spaces to hold court, contingent on security being available.

The sheriff’s officer can recommend proceedings be canceled if the room cannot be secured — but the judge will make the final decision.

Arnold said he was not allowed to hold court in the grand jury room a couple of weeks ago when all of the courtrooms were full, with one being used for a county commission meeting.

“I don’t think people have thought about one thing, and that’s my manpower,” Sheriff Ed Graybeal said. “I don’t have an extra bailiff (available for such instances).”

Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn reported another conflict during which a cord to a computer monitor was not long enough for an attorney to see the screen, and the bailiff would not let the attorney come around through the controlled access hallway to view the image with the judge.

“It was a piece of evidence the attorney and I needed to see together,” Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp said.Graybeal said the Justice Center has the best security in the state, and the WCSO’s accreditation requires very strict policies.

“I’ve told my bailiffs to do everything they can to accommodate the judges’ requests, but they are taking a beating,” he said.

Rambo agreed the bailiffs should not be put in the position of deciding whether to obey the orders of the sheriff or the requests of the judges when there is a contradiction.

“I know your bailiff doesn’t want to leave the courtroom with people present and the judge on the bench (to open a hallway door),” Rambo said. “We have to have faith in our judges to use common sense.”

Circuit Court Judge Jean Stanley, task force chair, suggested the judge serve as the escort rather than the bailiff in such situations.

“If (Cupp) wanted to slip out and bring in the attorney, would that be ok?” she asked.

“It will now,” WCSO Chief Operating Officer Leighta Laitinen said.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley Jr. said he would like to allow the attorneys to work in the courtroom during lunch, and asked if the bailiffs could stay.

“I have only one relief officer for the building, and the courtrooms are supposed to be locked if court is not in session,” Graybeal said.

Rambo suggested a compromise. “If the attorney leaves (the courtroom) while the bailiff is at lunch, that attorney is locked out in my opinion,” he said.

Arnold asked what procedure should be followed if his wife or a friend wants to come back to his office.

Rambo said either would need to be escorted by the judge or a bailiff. “We don’t want members of the public wandering the (controlled access) halls,” he said.

Graybeal made a motion to approve the draft with the suggested changes. Guinn seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.