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Compromise needed in the county courthouse



Published: Wed, January 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



When the recently released performance audit of Mahoning County government suggested that considerable savings could be achieved by reducing the number of deputy sheriffs assigned to the Courthouse, the reaction from the judges was swift -- particularly after violent altercations in the courtrooms of Common Pleas judges Maureen Cronin and James C. Evans. But court security is not an either-or proposition.

No one is suggesting that security be threatened. However, given the financial straits that the county is in, it's time that the judges look for ways to protect themselves and the public without requiring deputies on duty in every courtroom -- whether a court is in session or not.

And they should take a second look at their bailiffs. The Ohio State Bar Association describes a bailiff as "a court official who is the judge's assistant" whose duties include opening and closing the courtroom for the judge and maintaining administrative control of the courtroom and the jury.

But in some states, a court's bailiff isn't a patronage and administrative job, as it is locally. Instead it requires a sworn law enforcement officer hired under civil service. A bailiff who is also trained in police procedures could meet both the administrative and security needs of the court, at a considerable savings to Mahoning County.

Alternatives: In Polk County, Fla., for example, bailiff's must maintain custody of prisoners to and from the courtrooms, provide security and decorum within the courthouse and perform other courtroom management and security duties.

Similarly, a deputy bailiff in St. Charles County, Mo. is supposed to ensure the "safety and security of the court judge, court officers, the general public and prisoners." Moreover, they must be class A certified under Missouri Peace Officers Standards and Training, preferrably with an associate's degree in criminal justice or a related field,

Part-time and full-time bailiffs on the payroll of Clark County, Nev., are all required to have had two years of experience as commissioned law enforcement officers and at a minimum to possess a valid Nevada P.O.S.T Category II certification. On-call part-time bailiffs could also lessen Mahoning County's reliance on full-time deputies.

Bailiffs in the courts of Sandy City, Utah, wear the uniform of the Sandy City Police Department, and among other duties, they are expected to ensure that "criminal defendants in custody are prevented from having physical contact with family, friends, or spectators in order to prevent the passing of weapons or contraband." They must also "successfully interact with, and when necessary, control persons experiencing emotional, psychological or other disorders." An individual so trained would have been well suited to contain the problem that erupted in Judge Evans' court.

Modifying the way courtrooms are managed in Mahoning County would require a fresh look at hiring practices and challenging the old "that's-the-way-we've-always-done-it" obstacle to change. But it can be done.




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