Commissioners reject security deal for courts

Posted Oct. 20, 2009, at 8:39 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:09 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It was what was missing in a proposed contract that led Piscataquis County commissioners Tuesday to reject an arrangement with the state court system for security services.

Over the years, the Sheriff’s Department has provided a security officer for the court, and the state has reimbursed the county for that cost. That arrangement has worked well over the years, according to Sheriff John Goggin.

When Goggin compared the last contract the county had with the state and the proposed 2009-10 contract, he found the state “purposely left out some key language” between the two contracts.

The document leaves the door open for the state to shift all of the liability and security costs to the county, Goggin said. The contract also omitted additional funding of $3,750 a year for entry screening purposes.

“This is a liability time bomb,” Goggin told the commissioners of the proposed contract.

Goggin warned that it wouldn’t be a high-profile case in Superior Court when someone does something to hurt someone else; rather, that action likely would be taken in District Court involving a problem divorce or a child custody case.

“Right now, they [the state] expect the one court officer sitting in ‘this white elephant’ [courthouse] to protect the judge, clerk, district attorney, defense attorney, witnesses and everyone else in the courtroom,” Goggin said. That’s an impossible feat for one person to accomplish, yet the state wants the same officer to screen eve-ryone who goes into the courtroom, he said. “We don’t have the proper resources to do that.

“We’re just asking for trouble if we continue this program; my name is not going to be on that contract,” Goggin said.

It has been up to the counties if they want to provide their own court security officers and be reimbursed or have the state provide its own judicial officer, the commissioners were told.

Goggin said Piscataquis County always has provided its own officer. With no guarantee now that the state will reimburse the county for that service, especially in view of the state budget crisis, he recommended that the partnership be discontinued.

Commissioner Tom Lizotte agreed with Goggin. “I think you’re absolutely right. This is a liability time bomb,” he said. “I think it’s time to cut the cord.”

At their next meeting, the commissioners will sign a letter advising the state that courtroom security will be its responsibility in 90 days.

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