LISBON - The fight over courthouse security is apparently over, with Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike agreeing to limit the judges' oversight authority to the second floor, where the courtrooms are located.
Pike's office provided a copy of a letter sent Tuesday to county Sheriff Ray Stone advising Stone that as of July 16 the court "will not be providing any security other than on the second floor of the courthouse."
The letter went on to say that Pike was doing this after commissioners assured him at the June 27 meeting "there remained no impediments to exercising your statutory authority to provide courthouse security under their supervision."
The June 27 meeting is when the dispute came to a head between Pike and Commissioner Mike Halleck, with the two spending 30 minutes exchanging barbs and insults during a contentious discussion of the issue. Commissioners were planning to take legal action if Pike failed to acquiesce.
During the meeting, commissioners voted to rescind the security policy the board adopted in 2009 and replace it with a new policy that leaves judges out of the process. Commissioners maintain they were merely trying to bring the policy in compliance with state law, which clearly states the sheriff is responsible for courthouse security under the direction and control of commissioners, while the judges retain authority over their courtrooms.
Commissioners interpreted this to mean the judges can set security policy for the second floor, while the sheriff and the board are responsible for the rest of the courthouse.
The current system consists of security stations located in the courthouse entrance and on the second floor outside the courtrooms. The security stations are staffed by active and retired police officers, all of whom are employed part-time accept for the chief of security, Patrick Mango, who is full-time.
Stone said Pike called him Friday to advise him the letter would be forthcoming, and Stone does not anticipate making any changes to the current arrangement or staffing. "I think it's fine the way it is and I don't see making any major changes, but that's my opinion," he said.
Stone assumed he would only be in charge of the first-floor security station, and Amy Ondrejko, director of court operations, confirmed the judges would retain responsibility for operating the second-floor station.
Halleck and Pike are both on vacation, and Ondrejko said it is her understanding Mango would work full-time for the courts and be assisted by Justin Madison, who currently works part-time as a security officer on the first floor. Debbie Thomas will continue to work for the judges as a security staff assistant.
As for the rest of the security staff and whether they will continue to cover for each other during vacations or breaks, "I have no idea what they'll do about that," Ondrejko said. "There's still some things to be worked out. Hopefully, that will all be worked out by the end of next week."
Stone intends to meet with commissioners for clarification. Halleck indicated last week the security staff would be paid by commissioners and they would be considered their employees. "It's more of the commissioners' call than mine because they're the ones footing the bill," Stone said.
Pike said in his letter the judges have begun subsidizing security operations, which was confirmed by the county auditor's office. According to the auditor's office, the commissioners gave the judges $38,720 to cover courthouse security wages in 2012, and $41,344 has been spent to date. A total of $50,065 was spent on security wages for all of last year.
There is still the issue of the magnetic swipe security cards used by county employees to gain entry to rear courthouse entrance. Halleck wanted Pike to rescind a court order he issued reinstating the 2009 policy, which required swipe card applications be approved by the officeholder, chief of security and presiding judge.
Ondrejko said she presumes the commissioners can establish their own policy for issuing security cards for non-court county employees, although it is not specifically stated in Pike's letter.