What looked to be a substantial portion of the local judiciary poured into the upstairs meeting room of the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday. Their mission was to bear witness against a proposal to substitute retired law enforcement officers for a few of the bailiff positions now held by uniformed active sheriffs deputies.
After a good deal of impassioned testimony, followed by a modicum of cross-examination, their jurors members of the commission rendered a verdict in the judges' favor: Nothing doing.
Actually, the proposal, offered by Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, merely asked for the judges to enter into a dialogue with the commission and with the sheriffs department concerning some such future deployment of retired officers. But even that was too much for the judges on hand, many of whom protested on the basis of factors ranging from increased security concerns to the vigor and familiarity with specific courtroom conditions that currently serving officers had to offer.
Bunkers proposal was in fact a watered-down version of one offered earlier by the sheriffs department but withdrawn by Sheriff Mark Luttrell two weeks ago as judicial resistance began to mount.
The earlier proposal would have authorized a change in the composition of security contingents from the current ration of four deputies in criminal courtrooms to one of three deputies plus one retired officer. As envisioned, the plan proposed to save the county a minimum of $600,000 of annually.
To emphasize that point, Commissioner Steve Mulroy extensively questioned Harvey Kennedy, governmental liaison for Luttrell, eliciting answers which tended to support the idea that economies could be had at minimal risk to courtroom security.But almost every judge had a horror story to relate, either theoretical or actual, about the unpredictability of defendant behavior, and, toward the end of the debate, the speeches by commissioners and those from the judges and lawyers had tended to blur together, all focusing on the specter of impaired security.
The fact that, as commissioner David Lillard noted, a shooting had just occurred at Arkansas Democratic Party headquarters further underlined the pre-eminence of that concern.
Such support as might originally have existed on the commission for giving the three-and-one concept s limited try almost palpably suffered a meltdown, as did the mere notion of talking about it -- which, after all, had been the point of Bunker's resolution.
At the end, after commissioner Sidney Chism,chairman of the law enforcement committee which was in theory vetting the proposal, condemned it himself and called for a vote, only two commissioners present Bunker and Mike Carpenter were prepared to stand by it.
As Mulroy would note wanly, Sheriff Luttrell's abandonment of the three-and-one concept had deprived it of momentum, and, as several of the other commissioners pointed out, the virulence of judicial opposition in Wednesdays free-for-all was a clear indication that any future discussions were likely to go nowhere, in any case.