By Mark Waite
Fifth Judicial District Judge Kimberly Wanker said she’s the only judge in Pahrump without a bailiff and she’s starting to feel a bit uneasy about it.
On Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to pay $20,629 for a bailiff’s salary for the rest of the fiscal year, until June 30. Wanker agreed to take the money out of drug court funds for the rest of this year, in light of the county’s financial situation.
Judge Robert Lane and Pahrump justices of the peace Ron Kent and Kent Jasperson all have bailiffs. But besides holding court in Pahrump, Wanker also travels to Goldfield, Tonopah and Hawthorne as part of the vast judicial district. Nye County Human Resources Director Danelle Shamrelle said the bailiff would have to travel with her she said hopefully the county could recover part of the cost from Esmeralda and Mineral counties.
“I am the only judge who does not have a bailiff and as you know, there is no security at the courthouse, no screening,” Wanker told commissioners.
Sheriff’s deputies often fill in as bailiffs during criminal court. Wanker said her main concern is during civil trials when there is no bailiff, only a panic button she can press.
Wanker said technically the county is required by state law to provide a bailiff.
The judge recalled a couple of scary moments recently that she said made security a huge concern of hers. Wanker said she has to remain focused on the arguments in court, not on security.
“I received a note during my civil calendar that said, ‘the gentleman sitting in the front row you sentenced yesterday. Do you know why he’s sitting there?’ We were able to send a note, locate a bailiff from another department. Apparently he had been released because of the sentencing but there was a mix-up in his clothes and his money so he was waiting to speak with me as soon as I got off the bench,” Wanker said.
She added, “We have had incidents where we pulled a knife off someone in drug court.”
Then she recalled a family court matter.
“I was on the way to the courthouse in a civil matter where the couple were divorced and they were fighting over payment of items. I had to call the sheriff’s department to summon someone before I arrived,” Wanker said. “There are often real heated arguments that occur in the courtroom on civil days.”
Wanker said there was a shooting recently in a courthouse where there was scanning equipment. She pointed to a drive-by shooting at the home of Carson City justice of the peace John Tatro at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2012, two bullets hit the front door of his home but passed through a rear window without injuring anyone.
“Understanding security is of high importance and we had a number of incidents at the courthouse that we just don’t say anything about,” Wanker said.
Sheriff’s deputies on rotation may not be familiar with the reoccurring faces in the courtroom, Wanker said.
“Even though we had law enforcement in the courtroom they were not quick enough to react,” Wanker said.
A bailiff regularly stationed to the court could check under the seats, make sure the judge’s chambers were secure, be familiar with any cues given by the judge and otherwise be familiar with the courtroom, she said.
In Hawthorne, Wanker said she has to use public bathrooms in the Mineral County Courthouse.
The judge, who recently won election to fill out the two years of the late Judge John Davis’ unexpired term, attended mandated training. She said that included training for security issues in the courtroom.
“The bottom line, in all 37 scenarios, it was necessary for the first level of communication to be a bailiff,” Wanker said.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said there was talk about not allowing any guns in the courthouse, but the cost of having someone man metal detectors was too much.
“It seems like it would be an easier fix to mandate all employees carry to me, rather than say you can’t have guns. I’d rather have all the employees pack, and that’s just my crazy notion,” Schinhofen said.
Commissioner Donna Cox said, “If I were a judge and I were sitting in that position I would be sitting with one between my legs, you’ve obviously experienced many bad things.”
Wanker said if the county would allow Sheriff Tony DeMeo to have an MP5 submachine gun she’d be happy to have one sitting in her courtroom.
Last month, local advocate Sam Jones urged county commissioners to take down signs banning the carrying of weapons into the courthouse and the sheriff’s department. County Commission Chairman Butch Borasky wants to beef up a 1994 county resolution affirming the commission’s support of the rights of citizens to bear arms, to send a message to the federal government that may be thinking about gun control.
Robert Lane’s bailiff Kenny Taylor said the sign banning weapons was put up five years ago after the Nevada Supreme Court said district court judges needed to strengthen security at the courthouse because of all the shootings. While there are no metal detectors, someone violating that sign can be issued a contempt of court order.
Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski, a court watcher who often carries one or more sidearms outside the courthouse, told the Pahrump Valley Times last month the county has the liability if someone comes into the courtroom and starts shooting people.
“Your bailiff is the only one who is armed,” Mielzynski said. But he said the bailiffs would protect the judge, not the bystanders in the courtroom.