Judge concerned about courtroom security, asks for full-time armed officer
Judge Dal Williamson is concerned about security in the circuit courtroom, he told the Board of Supervisors, and he offered some suggestions about how to make improvements without asking for more money from taxpayers.
“We need to move toward looking at making the courtroom more secure,” he said at a recent meeting. “I’d hate for us to learn a lesson the hard way. We’ve been lucky.”
Williamson recalled one “skirmish” that took place outside of the courthouse in Ellisville.
“It was brought under control quickly, with six or seven deputies getting there as quick as they could,” Williamson said. “But I’m afraid we’re going to need force and need to able together a situation under control quickly inside the courtroom one day.”
There are bailiffs, he said, but they don’t wear guns.
“I would like an armed security officer in the courtroom,” Williamson said.
His idea is for the court to hire a deputy “of the court’s selection,” with the sheriff’s assistance, to “be there every day.” Chancery court has Officer Kyle Smith in the courtroom every time it’s in session.
“We need someone who will be capable of assisting the deputy (in circuit court) in case there’s a skirmish,” Williamson said.
“I know money is tight and I don’t want anybody to have to pay more taxes, but we need to move toward looking at being more secure,” he said.
And he had some ideas about how to accomplish both.
The new position could be paid for with proceeds in the court’s community service program, which can lawfully be transferred to the general fund, Williamson said.
Circuit court is also collecting more money than ever, the judge said. District 1 (Ellisville) had $16,631 in fines and court costs in 2014, the year before Williamson took office, but last year, it brought in $60,174. In District 2 (Laurel), that amount increased from $124,952 in 2014 to $187,696 in 2018.
There will also be extra money from a third bailiff who retired but isn’t being replaced. That will free up about $5,500, he said, since bailiffs’ pay is set by state statute at $55 per day, “whether they work three hours or eight or nine hours.”
Williamson also updated supervisors on a couple of other aspects of court.
“The community service program is functioning well,” he said. “It does a lot of good and saves the county a lot of money.”
Participants helped “a lot of good folks” take down the Christmas decorations in Mason Park this year, he said.
The judge said that new drug court coordinator Consuelo Walley is a “real go-getter,” and “we’re lucky to get her.”
The program is an alternative to prison for non-violent drug offenders, with an emphasis on rehabilitation and accountability. It takes three to five years to complete.
It operates on a “shoestring budget,” Williamson said, with $100,000 from the state and the fees that participants pay. There are approximately 80 participants now, and if it gets to 100, the state’s allotment goes up to $140,000, he said.
There were 14 people in the last graduating class.
“Most have a chance to live drug-free lives now,” Williamson said.
Walley has her law degree, but she worked in drug rehabilitation with Christ’s Church’s Dying To Live Ministries in its Zac House and Waltman House.
“She was the perfect candidate,” Williamson said. “She does a great job. She’s devoted, she teaches a lot of the classes herself.”
Five drug court coordinators from the state were selected to be part of a study, and Walley was one of the ones picked, even though she had less than a year on the job.
“That’s a high compliment,” Williamson said.