Barring a judge's intervention, come Oct. 1 Prince George's County sheriff's deputies will no longer provide security in District Court, where hundreds of criminal and civil cases are heard daily.
Instead, court bailiffs will begin wearing handguns and carrying pepper spray as they assume sole responsibility for security inside the District Court courtrooms in the Upper Marlboro and Hyattsville courthouses.
Prince George's bailiffs are retired law enforcement officers certified as special police officers and hired by the court as contract employees.
Yet to be decided is who will transport prisoners from the county detention center to court and vice versa, who will guard prisoners in courthouse holding cells and who will staff the metal detector checkpoints at courthouse entrances.
For decades, these tasks have been conducted by sheriff's deputies or by civilian sheriff's public safety aides.
"It's a tremendous tornado of change, in a very short amount of time," said Prince George's District Court Administrative Judge Frank Kratovil. Kratovil said it is unclear who will pick up the security tasks the sheriff's deputies are preparing to terminate: "It's totally up in the air. It's a substantial problem."
The decision to have the sheriff's department stop providing security at the courthouses was made in recent weeks by Chief District Court Judge Martha F. Rasin, though the decision was prompted in part by a convoluted legal battle involving the county, the sheriff's department, the District Court system and the state.
Three years ago, then-Sheriff James V. Aluisi filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) had slashed too much from his department's budget. Curry countersued Aluisi, alleging waste and mismanagement. The county also sued the State of Maryland, arguing it should pay for many of the courthouse security duties the sheriff's department had been providing.
In June, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the state, not Prince George's County, must pay for security at the state-funded District Court in Prince George's.
Rasin plans to have bailiffs perform security duties inside Prince George's District Court--as they do in 10 of the 11 other districts in the state. Only Charles County among the other District Court jurisdictions has sheriff's deputies providing security, Rasin said.
In those 10 judicial districts where bailiffs secure courtrooms, bailiffs are armed with handguns, Rasin said. Prince George's bailiffs have not been armed but will be as of Oct. 1 if they take sole responsibility for courtroom security as planned, she said.
The 25 sheriff's deputies who are assigned to District Court security duties in Upper Marlboro and Hyattsville will be reassigned to serve warrants, enforce domestic abuse protective orders and track down people who fail to pay child support, as well as other duties, said Col. John E. Moss, chief assistant to Sheriff Alonzo D. Black (D).
On average, 16 bailiffs work daily in Prince George's District Court in Upper Marlboro and Hyattsville, said Patti Platt, chief clerk of the District Court. By Oct. 1, an additional eight bailiffs will be hired for Prince George's District Court, at an annual cost of $211,790, Platt said.
Kratovil pointed out that Charles County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Chappelle, who is presiding over the lawsuit involving the county, the sheriff's department and the state, could issue an injunction ordering sheriff's deputies to continue to provide District Court security.
The next hearing in that case is scheduled for Wednesday.