Boyle, Mercer beef up security in courtrooms

December 15, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Three part-time bailiffs will be hired to guard Boyle County courtrooms, complying with a judge's order, but the sheriff's department has to sacrifice a cruiser to do it.

At their meeting Tuesday, magistrates debated how to come up with the $25,000 needed to hire the extra bailiffs. To pay for them, Sheriff LeeRoy Hardin will postpone replacing a cruiser that has logged 120,000 miles.

"If we have to ride a bicycle, we will," Hardin said, half-joking, and then added, "Security is more important (than a cruiser)."

Circuit Judge Darren Peckler issued the order to secure the courthouse after police arrested Ronnie Gay Cornett, who they believe had plans to gun down his ex-wife, her attorney and Family Court Judge Bruce Petrie at a court hearing earlier this month.


Even with the bailiffs, more will have to be done to secure the courthouse. The Fourth Street entrance likely will be closed. Hardin is still thinking about what to do with the spiral staircase in the law library that now is open to the public and has entrances to each of the judges' chambers.

"I've learned more about this courthouse in the last few days ... " Hardin said.

Magistrates hope the state will help pay for metal detectors for the courtroom entrances, and electronic equipment that allows only staff to open doors in the staircase that faces Fourth Street. It isn't a guarantee, and that made some magistrates uneasy.

A suggestion to refuse Peckler's order

At one point, Magistrate John Hudson suggested that the Fiscal Court refuse Peckler's order and see what would happen if the magistrates were held in contempt. "I don't see that we have much choice," Magistrate John Davis said.

Hudson objects to the extra measures because he says there isn't enough money in the county budget. The county is facing a $700,000 deficit at the end of the fiscal year and is considering whether to raise payroll taxes.

Judge-Executive Tony Wilder said he has resisted the idea of metal detectors and making the courthouse a "fortress" even though his life has been threatened and people have mailed him pictures of himself with bullets in his head.

Now, Wilder said, he realizes that the county must make the courtrooms more secure.

Since starting to guard the courtrooms, deputies have found a large pair of scissors on someone and a knife hidden under a bathroom trash can, according to Richard Campbell, county attorney.

The deputies are using metal-detector wands to screen people entering the courts.

Peckler told Hardin that the sheriff must post someone inside the courtrooms and at each of the entrances to the courtrooms while court is in session. There are three bailiffs. If all three courts are in session at the same time, it will take six bailiffs or deputies to do the job.

Hardin has taken deputies off the street to comply with Peckler's orders.

"You try to step forward, and something always kicks you back," Hardin said.

Recently he has been bombarded with new things to pay for with a shrinking budget. The state has made him start paying his deputies overtime.

Magistrates hope that after the state passes a budget, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the agency that oversees the state court system, will reimburse the county. Already, the AOC pays the salaries of the three bailiffs that now guard the courtrooms, but told the county it couldn't help because the state hasn't passed a budget.

Deputy sheriffs will make up the shortage in Mercer County

The bailiffs will be paid $6 to $8 an hour. Wilder said there already has been a flood of calls from potential applicants. In Mercer County, which is in the same judicial circuit at Boyle, deputy sheriffs will make up the shortage of bailiffs needed to meet Peckler's order to beef up security in the three courts held in the Mercer County Courthouse.

Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler told magistrates Tuesday morning that Peckler has ordered two bailiffs for both family and district courts and three to be on duty for circuit court.

Trisler said the county currently has three bailiffs and if all three courts are in session at the same time, deputies will be called in from patrol to serve in the courts.

Mercer Sheriff Ralph Anderson said earlier this week that he agrees with Peckler's order.

"We live day to day wondering what's going to happen next at small, rural courthouses like Harrodsburg's," Anderson said.

"Right now, somebody could walk into that courthouse with just about whatever weaponry they wanted to, and we probably wouldn't know it until we heard the gunshots."

Anderson hopes the AOC will assist the courthouses across the state with additional security.

Staff Writer Ann Harney contributed to this story.

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