Judge halts plan to privatize court bailiffs

MILWAUKEE COUNTY, WI &#8211 Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.’s plan to privatize courtroom bailiffs won’t fly – at least not for now.

Judge Dominic D’Amato ruled that Clarke could not place private security guards in courtrooms, a move the sheriff had already started by issuing a $1.4 million contract with G4S Secure Solutions. The firm, formerly known as Wackenhut, is an international company that provides personnel and technology services.

D’Amato issued a temporary injunction halting the deployment of 25 part-time G4S guards, siding with the county Deputy Sheriffs’ Association. Clarke argued that he had the power to hire the G4S guards as an emergency stopgap and wanted that to avoid paying full-time bailiffs overtime.

Clarke issued the G4S contract on an emergency basis after his 2012 budget was cut and eliminated 48 deputy jobs. The budget also called for creating a new category of part-time hourly bailiffs, who would be county employees but not deputies. Until now, the county has used only full-time deputies for courtroom security.

The deputies’ union has resisted opening the door to part-time bailiffs or private security for the courtroom. Under current staffing, felony courts have two bailiffs each, while misdemeanor and civil courts have one.

Roy Felber, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, said Friday the ruling was “a big win for us. I’m very disgusted that we are trying to privatize law enforcement.” Private security guards would be loyal to their company, not to the county, Felber said.

Felber said it made no sense to hire part-time help as bailiffs when the county just laid off 48 deputies in February. Clarke’s privatization move was “like he’s being judge, jury and executioner. He’s firing these people on his own then hiring different guys,” Felber said.

Under the deputies’ union contract, laid-off workers should be called back to work if there are bailiff jobs available, he said.

Michael Whitcomb, a lawyer for Clarke, said the sheriff hired G4S to fill in for bailiffs who called in sick or were on vacation because he no longer has enough full-time deputies to adequately cover all courtroom bailiff slots without resorting to overtime.

Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers and county supervisors have objected to Clarke’s plan to use private security guards in the courts. Kremers has said the move could presage an eventual shift to all private security in the courts.

The private guard idea was pursued by Clarke because of a lag in hiring part-time county workers for those newly created jobs.

D’Amato, in his ruling, also ordered the sheriff and other county officials to try to work out a compromise. If no deal is reached, a hearing on a permanent injunction barring the private courtroom guards would be held in October.

Whitcomb said a compromise could be for the county to authorize creation of 25 or so full-time deputy positions. However, County Executive Chris Abele and the County Board cut nearly double that number of deputy jobs and some $12 million from the sheriff’s budget as a key to balancing the 2012 budget.

The bailiff ruling was the second court case this week to go against Clarke. On Tuesday, another judge ordered the county to pay legal fees for two sheriff’s captains fighting to be reinstated to their old duties.

From The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

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