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Judges, sheriffs share duty of court security, AG says

Virginia law requires circuit judges and local sheriffs to collaborate on establishing and maintaining courthouse security, according to an official opinion of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

The July 12 opinion acknowledges court decisions giving judges “inherent authority” to regulate court security, in addition to authority found in the state code.

The opinion was requested by Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson, who asked whether circuit court judges could decide to allow cellphones into the courthouse and whether judges could delegate authority to decide who is allowed in certain courthouse areas.

Yes and no, said Cuccinelli in his response. The circuit judges do have the legal authority to establish a general rule that cellular telephones are permitted in the courthouse, he said. While the judges have the power to set rules on courthouse security, the power may not be delegated to a court administrator, he said.

Despite the judges’ authority, however, a sheriff has the authority to act in any specific instance in which a cellular telephone causes a disturbance or otherwise endangers public safety within the courthouse, Cuccinelli said.

Col. John Gomoke with the Portsmouth sheriff’s office said there had been conflicting requests from circuit judges on cellphone policy. “Some of them want to allow them, some of them don’t,” he said.

Portsmouth Chief Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Melvin said he was unaware of any dispute. “Generally speaking, we get along well with the sheriff on courthouse security matters,” he said.

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