By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
In order to keep the peace, it appears the duties of securing the Wood County Courthouse Complex may soon be divided.
Though the plans have not been finalized, it looks like the current court constables will continue to provide security in the courtrooms, jury rooms, adult probation and domestic relations. However, Wood County Sheriff’s deputies will take over the atrium entry, the county office building, the rest of the courthouse and the grounds.
“I have always suspected it was my duty to do that,” Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said about his office providing security.
The issue came up last month when Chief Constable Tom Chidester retired after 20 years of his department securing the courthouse complex. The current security program was devised cooperatively by the commissioners, judges, sheriff and other county elected officials in the mid 1990s, when the county was trying to meet the 12 requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court.
The court security officers perform several functions like scanning people and packages entering the court complex, standing guard during trials and providing general security functions.
But upon Chidester’s departure, Wasylyshyn questioned whether his office should take over the court security role.
The county commissioners and judges favored continued use of the court security officers. But Wood County Prosecutor Paul Dobson said the issue is not whether or not the current court security system is serving the county well. “The question isn’t whether it’s working,” he said. “The question is whether we are following the law.”
Wasylyshyn said Dobson was strong in his statement that it is the sheriff’s responsibility to keep peace in the courthouse.
Wood County Common Pleas Judge Matt Reger said the proposed division of responsibility is consistent with how Dobson read the requirements.
Dobson said Ohio law provides for the courts to have constables and a chief constable if the judges desire in their courtrooms.
“The opinion of the judges is we want to keep what we have had in place for 20 years in the courtrooms,” Reger said.
But the law also requires the sheriff have charge of the courthouse under the county commissioners, Dobson said. He sees the sharing of duties as “complimentary and not necessarily competing.”
However, as of Tuesday, the county commissioners had not been told of the proposal that both the court security and sheriff’s deputies provide security, according to Doris Herringshaw, president of the board of commissioners.
“We will wait for their final report,” she said.
But Herringshaw added that the commissioners stand by their original stance supporting the existing court security department.
Last month in a memo to the judges, sheriff and prosecutor, the commissioners suggested that the current system be retained.
“It is a cooperative plan that has served the courts, the courthouse complex, and the citizens of Wood County well,” the memo stated.
“We are troubled by the premise that we are being asked to undo the work of many previous elected officials, and that the result of our decision, either way, will be disagreement, argument, and animosity where there has been little or none for over two decades,” the commissioners stated. The system was well thought out, has evolved over the years and works very well, the memo continued.
A memo from the four county judges, Reeve Kelsey, Alan Mayberry, Dave Woessner and Matthew Reger, also supported sticking with the current system.
“The courts believe there is no reason to change a system that has worked well for more than 20 years,” the judges’ memo stated.
The judges stated that the court security office is compliant with the law and is not supplanting any responsibility of the sheriff. “The judges find the current situation to be beneficial to the security of the court and responsive to the needs of the courthouse complex. The judges do not believe that it is incumbent upon the sheriff statutorily to assume the responsibilities of court security.”
“The system currently in place is not broke and the judges find no reason to find a fix that is not necessary,” the judges stated.
If the security were to be split with the sheriff’s office, it is unknown how many of the current 12 part- and full-time security officers would be retained. Wasylyshyn said the existing court constables no longer needed may have a shot at being part of the sheriff’s security.
“We want to make this as cost neutral as possible,” he said.