December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Judge orders guards to be provided at Probation Department facilities

County judges want the Probation Department moved out of the old county courthouse because of poor conditions. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Judge James Burge has asked that sheriff’s deputies guard entrances to the old Lorain County Courthouse and the old Columbia Gas Building, both which house the Adult Probation Department. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge has given county Sheriff Phil Stammitti until Monday to assign deputies armed with handheld metal detectors to guard the entrances to the old Lorain County Courthouse and the old Columbia Gas building on Third Street.

Both buildings house the county’s Adult Probation Department, which falls under the control of the county’s six General Division judges, and Burge said that the security upgrades are mandated by a report the judges recently received from the Ohio Supreme Court.

“It’s obvious we need the security and the Supreme Court requires it,” Burge said Thursday. “What we’re asking for is minimal.”

Stammitti didn’t say whether he intends to comply with the directive, issued by Burge in a July 31, letter, but he said he hasn’t had a chance to review the Supreme Court security assessment and the judges have refused to provide him with a copy.

“As the sheriff, I’m in charge of security at the (Lorain County) Justice Center, and I believe I’m entitled to (the report),” Stammitti said, who requested a meeting with the Court Security Committee in a letter dated Thursday.

County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski, who chairs the Court Security Committee, said the judges don’t plan to provide copies of the assessment to Stammitti or the county commissioners, although the sheriff is welcome to review the report.

Betleski said the document isn’t a public record because it deals with security. He said the judges are reticent to share the report, even with other elected officials, because when the Supreme Court completed a similar assessment of the Justice Center several years ago, the report was leaked to the media.

“Ultimately, these security assessments are required to be secret,” Betleski said.

In his July letter, Burge wrote that the assessment of the Adult Probation Department mandates the judges comply with the Supreme Court’s rules governing security.

“All persons entering a court facility shall be subject to a security search,” one of the security standards quoted by Burge said. “A security search should occur for each visit to the court facility, regardless of the purpose or the hour.”

Another standard requires uniformed court security officers to be assigned in “sufficient numbers to ensure the security of each courtroom and the court facility.”

In the past, Stammitti has requested money to fund additional deputies at the Justice Center, but has had little success as the commissioners grappled with budget shortfalls in recent years.

Burge wrote that the deputies would need to be in place 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The directive from Burge comes as the judges remain locked in a dispute with the commissioners over where to house the Probation Department.

The judges want the Probation Department relocated to the unfinished fifth floor of the Justice Center, something commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski have complained is too expensive.

The judges, however, contend that the old courthouse is rife with environmental health problems, including asbestos, lead paint and mold. County officials have said the problems at the old courthouse aren’t as bad as the judges have suggested and have made some repairs.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.