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Bailiffs become reserve officers

The conflict between Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink Jr. and Sheriff Tom Mylander over control of courthouse bailiffs has developed into a broader dispute between the county and Brooksville.

For about a year, Mylander has publicly held the position that bailiffs should be sworn deputies and report to him. Tombrink and the other judges believe the bailiffs should continue to report to the judges.

One disadvantage of that system has been that the bailiffs' powers of arrest were confined to the courtrooms and judges' chambers. That changed Monday with an agreement between the judiciary and the city of Brooksville that the City Council approved.

Specifically, the council voted to make the bailiffs reserve city police officers. Council members said the move would benefit Brooksville by providing additional qualified officers at no extra cost.

The judges favored it because bailiffs' arrest powers would be extended to the city limits.

"It's a win-win situation for everybody," Tombrink said Monday afternoon.

In the day-to-day operation of the courthouse, it will probably make little difference, he said. In an emergency, it might.

"This is more to handle the crazed guy with the Uzi in the (government center) atrium," Tombrink said.

The city's decision came over the objection of County Commission Chairwoman June Ester. She had tried to convince City Manager Jim Malcolm over lunch Monday that the judges did not have the authority to reach such an agreement with the city.

She said that County Attorney Bruce Snow "is of the opinion that the judiciary does not have the power to do anything about it. . . . I have a problem with it because (the city) is doing something with the judiciary that requires county funds."

She said the agreement could cost the county more money if it must buy additional equipment for the bailiffs to fill their duties as reserve officers. Also, according to the agreement, the judges are liable for increased insurance, she said. That would come from county funds.

And none of the commissioners were aware that the city would be voting on the agreement until she saw it on the council's agenda.

"We didn't know anything about it," she said.

Malcolm did not ask the council to table the matter because City Attorney Doug Bevins assured him that the judges had the power to sign it.

The agreement does not affect the larger issue of whether the bailiffs should be deputized and report to Mylander, Malcolm said.

Mylander does not like the fact that the bailiffs report to the judges mostly because it is inefficient, he said.

"We just feel this is not the best way to do it."

If bailiffs were deputized, they could help with other duties, such as serving warrants or adding courthouse security, a job now filled by a separate group of deputies, Mylander said.

He also said Hernando County is one of the few in the state where bailiffs report to judges. A obscure special law, passed in 1971 and applying only to the 3rd and 5th judicial districts, makes the arrangement legal, Ester said.

Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Spring Hill, is sponsoring a bill in the Legislature that would repeal the law and specifically put all bailiffs under the authority of sheriffs.