July 29, 2014

Elyria
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High court asked to consider guns at Justice Center

ELYRIA — The county’s judges are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to conduct a review of the security at the county Justice Center to help settle a debate over whether police officers can carry firearms in the courthouse.
The ban on any officer not assigned to courthouse security carrying a weapon has been in place since the Justice Center opened in 2004, and it drew fire then from area police officers and chiefs.
Presiding Judge Mark Betleski said the judges met with county Sheriff Phil Stammitti on Tuesday to discuss his views on a possible policy change but didn’t vote on the issue as they had planned. Instead they decided to ask for the security review.
The judges also want to get more information on training for officers who will be coming to court and may be armed, Betleski said.
Administrative Judge Edward Zaleski has long been a proponent of the ban, in large part because that’s what the Ohio Supreme Court’s security guidelines recommend.
“Based on the Supreme Court’s recommendations, the fewer guns in the court, the better off we are,” he said.
The county’s police chiefs asked the judges to re-examine the ban earlier this year, in part because several judges who favored the ban have left office. Recently elected Judge James Burge said he’s still undecided about what should be done.
“I’m not opposed to it in principle,” he said. “It’s just that there would have to be a protocol developed that the judges felt comfortable with and that the officers in uniform can live with.”
Under a proposal Stammitti offered to the judges Tuesday, uniformed officers who are in court on official business would be allowed to retain their guns after checking in with sheriff’s deputies working security.
Those in court on personal business or who aren’t in uniform would have to surrender their firearms at the door.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.