June 24, 2018
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Judicial marshal service takes over Penobscot County court security from sheriff’s office

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The most notable change at courthouses Monday in Penobscot County was the color of the jackets worn by entry screeners and court officers, Michael A. Coty, director of the Maine Office of Judicial Marshals, said Monday.

Judicial marshals wear blue blazers. Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office employees wear brown.

Coty’s office, which is part of the state judicial system, took over providing security and entry screening from the sheriff’s office after the sheriff’s office and marshal service could not come to terms in October on a new contract. The sheriff’s office provided court security in Bangor for decades — first at the historic county courthouse and district court on Hammond Street and, since November 2009, at the Penobscot Judicial Center on Exchange Street.

The sheriff’s office also provided security at courthouses in Newport, Millinocket and Lincoln. The judicial marshals office now is covering those locations in addition to Bangor.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Monday that his organization’s contract with the judicial marshals office expired on June 30 but employees had continued to work while he kept negotiating.

The transition did not involve any layoffs, both Ross and Coty said. Many of the 23 people who worked for Ross now work for Coty but will be paid at an hourly rate rather than on a per diem basis. Ross had four court officers working full time and 19 part-timers, many of whom were retired military police or law enforcement officers.

The judicial marshals office has seven full-timers and seven part-timers, Coty said. Of the 14 people hired in Bangor, 11 of them worked for Ross, Coty said. Fifteen former sheriff’s department employees applied for jobs with Coty but some withdrew their applications when they found other employment. Others chose not to apply.

Coty also has the ability to move judicial marshals from surrounding counties, including Aroostook, Hancock, Waldo and Knox, to Bangor when things are busy at the judicial center. That was done in 2010 for the murder trial of Rory Holland, which was moved from York County to Penobscot County due to pretrial publicity.

The judicial marshals office now provides security at courthouses in all but three counties. County sheriff’s offices still provide security and entry screening at courthouses in Kennebec, Somerset and Lincoln counties, Coty said.

In Penobscot County, the proposed annual contract with the sheriff’s office for the next two fiscal years beginning July 1 included $434,217 for courtroom security and an additional $130,000 for entry screening, which is funded separately by the Legislature, the sheriff said.

The decision came down to money, Ross said.

“We were flat funded from last year,” he said. “That was problematic because we didn’t make money on the contract. There were cost increases through step increases we’d negotiated with our employees that weren’t covered, but the real decider was the fact that we’d be on the hook for the Affordable Health Care Act.”

Ross said that in the past, the contract covered pay increases negotiated between the county and the union representing the court officers and other sheriff’s department employees.

“Because the Affordable Care Act would require us to provide health insurance for employees working 30 hours a week or more, we expected that cost to be $22,750 between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2015,” he said. “The state would not pay that cost.”

Coty said that he could not discuss the details of the negotiations but said the Legislature flat funded money for court security and entry screening in Penobscot County this fiscal year and next. He said he would provide for security within the budget constraints.

The Penobscot Judicial Center still is the only courthouse in the state that has full-time entry screening.

“We’re pretty close to 100 percent [entry screening] in Cumberland County and in Lewiston and Biddeford,” Coty said. “But in the smaller courthouses, it’s much less often.

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley in February set a goal of having entry screening 70 percent of the time in all courthouses excluding the one in Bangor. Coty said Monday the statewide average for entry screening was now at between 68 and 69 percent.

He said that the new judicial building under construction in Augusta behind the Kennebec County Courthouse will have full-time entry screening when it opens in 2015.

Correction: An earlier version of this story requires clarification. The Maine Office of Judicial Marshals will oversee court security in Penobscot County. The U.S. Marshal Service is not involved.

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