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Security measures leave Tampa courthouse patrons in the cold

TAMPA — If you have reason to start the week with a trip to the Hillsborough County courthouse, here's a tip: Get there early. Really early.

A revamped security screening process left visitors waiting an hour or more in the cold Monday morning outside the main entrance of the Edgecomb Courthouse on E Twiggs Street.

It was their only way into the building. The public is no longer allowed to enter the courthouse through the annex doors on Jefferson Street. That entrance is now dedicated to courthouse employees, attorneys, law enforcement and the news media.

The change represents the latest in the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office's continuing efforts to make the courthouse more safe. But Monday, the long waits left patrons freezing and frustrated.

"This isn't working," said Deborah Guest, a court reporter who arrived 40 minutes early for a 9 a.m. civil court hearing. At 9:25 a.m., she was still in line.

Shannon Vaughn of Carrollwood got in line at 8 a.m. for jury duty. She didn't get inside the courthouse until about 9:15.

She saw one man taking a picture of the line with his cell phone.

"He said, 'I'll show that to the judge when he issues my warrant,' " Vaughn said.

Col. Jim Previtera, who oversees courthouse security, didn't apologize for the delays.

"We're not going to scrimp on security just to expedite things," he said. "Security and convenience will never go hand in hand."

Mondays have been the busiest day of the week since the Sheriff's Office took charge of courthouse security in October, he said.

In addition to the normal heavy traffic, that's when a large pool of jurors shows up for duty.

This Monday marked the first day on the job for the contracted employees hired to screen visitors at a cost savings to the county. Deputies also manned the entrances.

The Edgecomb Courthouse opened at 7:30 a.m. By 10 a.m., 3,500 people had been screened, Previtera said.

Robin McCarty, manager of jury services, said 133 jurors failed to show up, but she wasn't sure if the long line was to blame.

The clerk's office will evaluate how to instruct jurors for future Mondays, she said. It already staggered jurors' arrival times in response to previous security changes.

Previtera is going to ask to stagger court hearing times as well.

"If everybody showed up for a Bucs game at 1 o'clock," he said, "nobody would see the first half."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Security measures leave Tampa courthouse patrons in the cold 01/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 10:26pm]
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