Commissioners to meet with Teen Court Wednesday to work out contract
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Jan 4, 2006 - A work session Thursday morning with county commissioners regarding Teen Court's request to utilize court facilities concluded with an agreement to meet again Wednesday to hammer out a contract detailing use of county court facilities, as well as which facilities would be available.

Five teen-agers spoke this morning on behalf of Teen Court Merit Club members and student attorneys, as well as Teen Court board members, Sheriff Butch Adams, Municipal Court Judge Phyllis Rogers and Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp.

Commissioners, as they had done in previous meetings, expressed concerns for courthouse security, crowded court schedules, and accountability should a security situation arise or the courthouse be damaged.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Danny Evans said he would like to see a minimum of two law enforcement officers at any Teen Court proceeding held on county property. He indicated he would like the contract to require Teen Court officials to provide to the county judge the day prior to any Teen Court session a list of all law enforcement officers to be responsible for security. He also suggested the doors be locked to prevent those not affiliated with the court session from causing problems or bringing a weapon into the courthouse.

Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp, who has volunteered to serve as a security officer during Teen Court meetings at the courthouse, reminded that such security concerns as outsiders entering the courthouse with or stashing a weapon at the courthouse is also an issue during the day, when regular courthouse operations are being conducted. He also noted that a person who had been convicted of a criminal offense but released on bond until sentencing could represent a potential security problem any normal day in district or county court.

Kemp said the teens participating in the court as attorneys and court officials were doing so voluntarily, and those juveniles appearing in court were thereon Class C misdemeanor charges. While those offenses are still taken seriously, they are considered considerably less threatening than most other court trials held at the courthouse.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Burke Bullock noted that if the contract stipulated that courthouse security officer John Hipkins be present during the proceedings, "then I'd be willing to do almost anything," including allow Teen Court to meet in the courthouse. 

Precinct 3 Commissioner Don Patterson noted that Hipkins' job has the courthouse security officer arriving around 6 a.m. weekdays to conduct a thorough search of the facility to ensure nothing untoward or dangerous had been left in the building, and that he continues the conduct "sweeps" of the courthouse throughout the day.

"We made him responsible for that," Bullock said.

Sheriff Butch Adams, one of the original Teen Court founders, said security should not be an issue. He added his voluntary service, along with that of the sheriff's office's reserve deputies, to ensure Teen Court would be adequately secure, whether with two or four officers as recommended by another commissioner.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker said before she could agree to allow Teen Court to use the courthouse or any county facility she would require a written contract with Teen Court officials stating rules and regulations for the facilities use. She also noted hat the contract would have to stipulate responsibilities and that there can be "absolutely no food" at the facility. She also suggested the possibility of Teen Court using the two justice of the peace courtrooms for two court sessions, and if thos or any of the other court facilities were "not feasible, then look at the district courtroom."

Kemp noted that dividing the court session up at two locations would require twice as many personnel to oversee the teens, but having court in one session would contain them in one area.

Teen Court representatives Robby Moore, Kelly Horton, Katie Hettich, Rachel Ming and Whitney Hu assured commissioners that Merit Club members take Teen Court proceedings seriously, and do not currently take food into the courtroom with them. They would dress and act professionally and suggested that each member be required to sign a contract holding them accountable for their actions. They also agreed that it would be a good idea to have the doors locked during court, as participants are required to be on time.

Wisenbaker also suggested that it be a requirement the entire third floor of the courthouse as well as any other areas not being used be roped off to prevent Teen Court participants from entering them.

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