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Security measures in courts to be upgraded

May 27, 2003|By CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Call it irony.

At the same time Berkeley County commissioners recently listened to a presentation dealing with, in part, the security measures that will be implemented at a planned judicial center, a problem was brewing in a courtroom across the street.

A man unhappy in Circuit Judge Gray Silver III's courtroom - actually a meeting room that sometimes is used to hold court - voiced some choice words toward the judge.

Faced with an angry man in close quarters, Jeff Wilkins, one of the bailiffs who confronted the man, said a struggle ensued and a door got knocked off its hinges. Wilkins said he eventually was able to handcuff the man.

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Meanwhile, across the street, commissioners last Thursday were sitting in their semi-dark meeting room with their eyes on a PowerPoint presentation. Kenneth J. Jandura, with the engineering firm of DMJMH+N, said security has been far from overlooked in the judicial center.

Once it opens in the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center's Berkeley Building, the judicial center will be a comprehensive court and office complex.

Currently, Circuit Court, Family Court, Magistrate Court and other related offices are scattered throughout several buildings in Martinsburg.

In all of the courthouses, meeting rooms are sparse. Sometimes those on opposing sides of a case must sit together before their hearing begins. Defendants from Eastern Regional Jail are brought in through public doors and often sit in court as cases before theirs are handled.

In the judicial center, jail inmates will be taken to an enclosed vehicular port and then will walk through a secure, private door. Separate holding cells will be built for men, women and juveniles, who are required to be kept apart, Jandura said.

Private meeting rooms will be available throughout the center, and employees will have a separate entrance to the building and separate bathrooms, Jandura said.

"In any court setting, there is always the possibility of violence," Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss said. "The best way to address the problem is by separation."

Strauss said he hopes to solicit bids this summer for some required demolition work at the Berkeley Building. By the end of this year, he hopes to have the entire project out to bid.

The first floor, which technically is a basement but has windows, will house the prosecutor's offices, probation offices and a central holding area for inmates.

Family court will be housed on the second/main floor, along with the Circuit Court clerk's offices, which often are used by the public. A law library also will be available for public use.

The third floor will be dedicated entirely to magistrate court, which now is housed in an old school. Currently, the air-conditioning often must be turned off in magistrate courtrooms for proceedings to be audible, and two or three rows of chairs are set up for spectators.

In the judicial center, 50 or more people can be seated, Jandura said.

On the top floor, Circuit Court judge's chambers and courtrooms will be built, along with smaller holding cells, a grand jury room and an Alternative Dispute Resolution space, an increasingly popular way to help avoid costly court hearings, Jandura said.

Strauss said the news of the disruption in Silver's court emphasized the need to "fast-track" plans for the judicial center.

In the meantime, he said more bailiffs will be asked to keep an eye on Silver's quarters.

Within six months, Strauss said he hopes Silver can start holding court in the Dunn Building, a former outlet center that is being remodeled for county offices.

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