Budget cuts mean less security in Jeff. Co. courtrooms

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County judges are coping with an $800,000 budget cut.

"There is no way we are going to function. Right now I have a courtroom full of people with a judicial assistant. We can't get through the morning as it is," Jefferson County District Judge Shelly Watkins said.

The judges were told they would lose 12 of 23 bailiffs for security. In a meeting with Presiding Court Judge Scott Vowell, the judges were told to share bailiffs and other court personnel.

"How can you effectively manage all of those resources so that they can be used in all of the courtrooms? It's going to be scheduling nightmare," Presiding Criminal Court Judge Tommy Nail said.

Jefferson County Commissioners cannot guarantee they will continue to provide $500,000 for the remaining eleven bailiffs.

"I will commit to continuing that funding for the rest of the year, but everything is on the table next year," Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight said.

Many of the judges are turning to Sheriff Mike Hale's office for security help.

"I think Sheriff Hale knowing him as I do, I think he will help with security over there," Jefferson County Chief Deputy Jim Roberson said. The sheriff's office is also faced with funding cuts and will be limited in the amount of help the office can offer, but some of the judges say Sheriff Hale may have no choice.

"Once the jail fills up and the federal judge gets on him, we will get some more deputies to help the courts," Watkins said.

Jefferson County Family Court is also concerned about the cuts.

"Family court is very volatile," Jefferson County District Family Court Judge Jill Ganus said.  Ganus says she has a warrant out for the arrest of a man in a child support case for making terrorist threats.

"There is a gentleman, a legitimate threat, that he has said he is going to kill me, destroy, or blow up the courthouse," Ganus said. Another problem facing family courts in Birmingham and Bessemer would be the loss of two referees who help with the courts' caseloads.

"Each judge court hears 75 hundred cases a year. They are going to take away two of the judges who hear those cases," Jeff McGee, Family Court Administrator said.

Ganus said her only option is to prioritize cases where the life of a child is at stake without court action.

"There are not going to be reunification with their children. There are going to be cases where children need to be removed from their...parents. They are going to be pushed back. It's vicious cycle," Ganus said.

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