Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts and staff will have a more secure working environment soon, thanks to Pct. 4 Commissioner Ed Rinehart. The Commissioner will fund a fulltime bailiff from his own budget until the end of the fiscal year, when he hopes to convince other commissioners to approve the additional position.
Metts said his safety concerns began in 2008 when his courtroom and offices moved from the East Montgomery County Annex building, where they shared space with three law enforcement agencies, to the building on an adjacent property that was once the R.B. Tullis Library.
Since then, the Pct. 4 dockets have continued to grow, bringing more people and more problems. Last Thursday was what Metts called “a light arraignment day,” with 400 cases scheduled for the morning and 400 more in the afternoon.
“By most JP court standards that would huge, but it’s not for this one,” Metts said, “1,500 is not uncommon.”
“I was here on Tuesday and the courtroom was packed,” Rinehart said.
The court consistently clears 600 to 700 cases in a day, and not all of those people act civilized, inside or outside of the courtroom. On juvenile days, court sometimes lasts until 9 p.m.
Around lunchtime on Thursday, Metts discussed the situation with Rinehart and Pct. 4 Constable Rowdy Hayden, who currently provides Metts with bailiffs. Hayden also sends extra help when incidents arise, which is occurring on an increasing basis.
Ironically, while Metts, Rinehart and Hayden were in the judge’s office discussing the matter, Pct. 4 deputy constables had to arrest a man in the courtroom. Gary Rahilly, 39, arrived for court intoxicated. It was Rahilly’s fourth public intoxication charge, and the third time he was charged with that crime on a visit to Judge Metts’ court.
But Rahilly’s incidents were not even among those cited as issues by the judge.
“We’ve had three vehicles burglarized here and a $1,600 county computer was stolen out of one, and a cell phone was taken out of another, and another vehicle was vandalized.” Metts said. “These problems have steadily increased.”
Those were only the problems outside. In October, a man with a felony warrant was pointed out to a Pct. 4 deputy inside the courtroom, then ran out and fled in his vehicle starting a multi-agency high speed pursuit.
In an earlier incident, a woman was arrested for selling methamphetamine in the courtroom to get money to pay a fine.
On a regular basis, the clerks outside the courtroom deal with angry belligerent and threatening people, forcing them to call for help from Hayden’s office.
“We have a very busy court, with a lot of new people moving into the area, and some of those people are not of the best character,” Metts said.
The Constable agreed, saying his men have written multiple citations for disorderly conduct, made a felony narcotics arrest in the parking lot, and had the afore mentioned pursuit that began from Metts’ courtroom.
Hayden agreed that the case load was huge, creating an added burden not only on Metts and his staff, but on Hayden’s already busy crew as well.
“I don’t know any other constable’s office that has to provide their JP Court with at least two bailiffs at a time,” Hayden said. “A lot of times, when we send an additional bailiff it’s part of our administration.”
Rinehart said it was obvious both the Judge and Constable’s Offices had tremendous loads and said what he heard and what he observed made him concerned for the safety of the clerks working for the judge.
“The also need (security) when they’re coming in and out,” Rinehart said. “At the judge’s office, they have to take money from people and they can become really irritated.”
A frequent visitor to the Judge’s office and in daily communication with Metts and Hayden, the Commissioner was already aware of many incidents. Visiting the court on Tuesday and Thursday and hearing the Judge’s concerns, Rinehart did not hesitate to respond.
“We’re going to do something about it,” he said. with the county budget being as tight as it is right now I don’t see a way the county can fund this position right now, but I’ve got enough money left in my salary that I can fund this position for the next eight and a half months.”
“Hopefully the budget’s better next year and we (county commissioners) can fund it,” Rinehart said.
Metts and Hayden were appreciative of the response, which will benefit both offices.
“It’s nice that the Commissioner recognized our need here,” Metts said. “He stepped up to the plate as he’s always done.”
“Anytime we have a need for something, we know we can go to Commissioner Rinehart,” Hayden said. “He’s a very familiar face at both departments.”