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March 11, 2014

A question of authority

Sheriff’s quest to secure building access is on hold

CLAREMORE —

A dispute concerning Rogers County Courthouse security remains in limbo today.
The key card access system, more specifically access to the judge’s offices for attorneys and their couriers, is prompting district judges and other officers of the court to join the discussion. 
Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm voted to support the access without performing background checks, while Chairman Dan DeLozier adamantly opposed it.
 “I believe this should be a decision of the Sheriff,” DeLozier said.
Courthouse security includes control of electronic key cards, standard keys, electronic monitoring (video surveillance) and x-ray scans upon entry to the building. The key cards are used in lieu of traditional keys.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the room during the commissioners’ weekly meeting. 
The discussion centered on the decision-making power of the board vs. the statutory authority of the sheriff to govern courthouse security.
According to state law, courthouse security is an obligation of the sheriff.
Title 19 Oklahoma Statutes Section 516 states: “The sheriff, in addition to the duties pursuant to subsection A of this section, shall coordinate and administer courthouse security.”
“As far as the court system is concerned, it is not a board decision. That is the issue and the problem we have had,” said District Judge Sheila Condren. “It is clear by statute this is a function of the sheriff’s office.”
“We are revisiting this issue for a third time,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton. “I am not asking for permission to do our job.”
Walton said he is trying to avoid a legal battle to resolve the issue. He expressed concern it would be expensive for the taxpayers, because his office has been forced to hire outside legal counsel. 
Walton is party to a defamation lawsuit filed by District Attorney Janice Steidley, Assistant District Attorney David Iski and Bryce Lair. He sought outside legal advice for his office as a result to avoid the conflict of interest. The DA’s office is the statutory legal representative for all county officers.

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