Beaufort County Magistrate Court seeks security help in budget request

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Beaufort County Magistrate Court seeks security help in budget request

Published Friday, April 20, 2012   |  561 Words  |  

The legs of the plastic chairs in the Beaufort County magistrate courtroom are bound together with zip ties to prevent people from hurling them at judges.

It's one of the few security measures the Magistrate Court has.

Without security officers, metal detectors or other security devices, employees of courtrooms at the Arthur Horne building in Beaufort and the Myrtle Park building in Bluffton say they go to work each day with a little more uncertainty than workers at other Beaufort County court facilities where those security measures exist.

Magistrate Court administrator Stephanie Garst said police had to be called to the Bluffton courtroom last week when an irate defendant began shouting and staff couldn't calm him.

Two weeks earlier, word spread that someone brought a gun into the building, Garst said. While the report turned out to be false, magistrate judges and staff still had to lock themselves in a windowless conference room while an officer searched the building, she said.

"(Security) is something we have to be extra mindful of," she said, "probably more than we would have to be anywhere else."

The court handles misdemeanor crimes, traffic violations, eviction notices, restraining orders, civil cases of less than $7,500, bond court, and search and arrest warrants. The office processes about 25,000 cases a year, has 17 employees and handles more than $2 million in fines and fees annually.

In the court's annual budget request, Chief Magistrate Rod Sproatt asked the County Council's Finance Committee on Monday for $129,000 to hire three constables. A constable is appointed by the governor and must meet requirements set by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, according to the S.C. State Constables Association. While not trained as police officers, they are designated to augment local law enforcement efforts.

The request for security officers is in addition to a $590,000 request for security equipment, office supplies and to hire four more judges. Overall, the magistrates requested $1.94 million from the county.

Garst said it's the first time in the three years she's helped write the budget proposal that the court has asked for money for security. The county increased the court $1.3-million budget by only $1,870 between 2011 and 2012, documents show.

Reductions in revenue and County Council's efforts to hold the line on spending for the last four years could make the extra $719,000 in a a long shot. This year, County Council has asked staff to focus on giving employees a raise and covering rising fuel costs without raising property taxes.

"We'd really like to give some cost-of-living adjustment (to employees) this year, which we haven't done in four years," Councilman Bill McBride said during the committee meeting. "But if all the budgets come in and they all continue to increase, that's not going to happen."

The committee made few comments about the court's request other than saying the county would consider it.

The 2012-2013 county budget takes effect July 1.

Related content

  1. Magistrate: Courts need more security, Oct. 30, 2005
  2. Loaded pistol courthouse prompts Beaufort County security review, Dec. 11, 2011