Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

County Commission News


Transcript of Janet Lords appearance before the Board of County Commissioners:  November 1, 2007

MS. JANET LORD:          Good evening. I am here to ask the commission to approve Pre Trial Release Supervision Contract and in support of that …

  • (Ms. Lord passed out letters of support and recognition from all four circuit court judges; the Clerk of the court, Mr. Cason; Tina Seifert, the division chief of the assistant State Attorney and Herb Ellis, the division chief in the Public Defender’s Office)

MS. LORD:           I am here to answer any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER DEWEY WEAVER:           You’re asking for approval of a contract to supervise felony.

MS. LORD:           Felony pre trial release.  Not in place of Wainwright Judicial Services, along with. So there will be two. Just like there are two county probation contracts.

COM WEAVER:           You came before this board earlier?

MS. LORD:           Well, the contract did, yes sir.

COM WEAVER:           And it was not approved. Are you still supervising felony cases or did you stop at that time when we did not approve it, the contract?

MS. LORD:          Various judges have continued to assign them to us. So we still have some, yes.

COM WEAVER:           You are taking them?

MS. LORD:          If they are assigned directly to us, yes sir.

COM. WEAVER:           And against the wishes of this Board?

MS. LORD:           On the order of the court.

COM WEAVER:           Then why are you coming asking us to approve the contract if you are going to do it anyway?

MS. LORD:           I am under the impression that a contract is a necessary item and we are doing it at the urging of Judge Paul Bryan, who in April, I believe it was, said that I should try again, because I was unaware it was on the agenda at the time it was presented.

COM. WEAVER:           What gives me heartburn here is that the board turned it down last time and your agency has continued to do it whether Judges assign it or not, you continue taking them against the wishes of this Board, because we denied the contract. And now you come back and ask for a contract because we did not issue one, the first time. And it’s like saying to this Board that you have no authority to issue a contract and it makes me wonder why you’re asking for a contract when you’re doing it anyway.

MS. LORD:           Because I am not in position to tell a Judge that I am not going to do something that he orders me to do.

COM. WEAVER:           A letter from Judge Collins should have first went in your packet

MS. LORD:           Yes sir.

COM. WEAVER:           That was dated in March of 2007, instructing the judges not to.

MS. LORD:           In March of 2007?

COM. WEAVER:          March of 2007. March 29th as a matter of fact and it says, it’s addressed to the Judges at the court house, and basically it says, accordingly please insure that you specify which of those two agencies, Wainwright Judicial Services or the Dept. of Corrections is to perform pre trial supervision. And it even has a form attached with those two entities on it. And so I really have a problem with why Salvation Army is continuing to do it in that particular case. That’s all I have Madam Chair.

CHAIRPERSON ELIZABETH PORTER:           Commissioner, I think what worries me about the situation is that if there were to be an issue with a felon, heaven forbid, if that felon were to somehow get out, get loose, and inflict harm upon someone else and we have no contract with you or have had no contract with you, that leaves the county in a very financially tenuous situation. We would be subject to suit. That’s a bad position to be in and I understand you said that you realized or that you are understanding that it is necessary to have a contract in order to supervise felons, but why now? If you were supervising felons before why would a contract be necessary now, but not in the prior eight months?

MS. LORD:           Let me back up. When the first time the contract was proposed and it was denied, I was unaware that it was going to be brought before the Commission. So when I finally got word that it was denied, I spoke with Mr. Feagle about the idea as to whether a contract was necessary because it is not specifically designated in the statute. He answered both to myself, and I forwarded that to who I think was also Judge Collins, at that time, and they were. The decision on what agency the Judge picks is the Judges decision. And as I said before I can’t, I mean I’m not in the position to tell them no, that I can’t do something and there was still some interpretation as to whether one is necessary or is not necessary, so I am here at the urging of Judge Bryan.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           Mr. Feagle, can you shed some light on to whether or not the judiciary can assign these cases to an entity without a contract and whether or not we must adhere to that?

COUNTY ATTORNEY MARLIN FEAGLE:            I guess to a certain extent there’s still some separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Legislative Branch, but the statute does speak to having a contract for supervision, misdemeanor probation. I’ve written Judge Collins a letter back in February of 2007 when he was Chief Circuit Judge and explained my interpretation of the statute to Judge Collins and I assume that’s part of what participated his writing the letter that Commissioner Weaver was referring to, and as I explained to Judge Collins at that time, the statute clearly provides that for misdemeanor supervision, where an inmate or a detainee has been sentenced and is under supervision for six months for a misdemeanor, then a contract  is necessary either with the court or with the judicial system or with the county. In fact I believe it requires both. The statute did not specifically address pre trial supervision of felonies, which we’re referring to now, but it was my recommendation to Judge Collins at that time, and it was only a recommendation, that if we were going to utilize that program with pre trial supervision of felony inmates, which means they are being supervised before they are found guilty or sentenced, it is like a house arrest awaiting trial, that we should follow the same procedure as a minimum, which would require a contract approved and recommended by the court and also with the county, with some minimum standards, such as insurance and indemnification provisions and some specific things that are required by the statute. So that’s the long answer to saying, I believe that there needs to be a contract approved by the county.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           One last question, at least for myself. Does the Judiciary have the latitude to require them to accept these felons even though we do not have a contract with them?

CNTY. ATNY. FEAGLE:           The judiciary as the county commission is guided and by these statutes themselves in this area, as far as a misdemeanor or pre trial supervision and I don’t think that the courts would want to find themselves in the position of doing anything contrary to the statute, so it is a matter of how the statute is interpreted. And if the judiciary interprets the statute the same as we do, then it would require a contract, also.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           Commissioner Bailey.

CNTY. ATNY. FEAGLE:           There is no black and white answer to it.

COM STEVEN BAILEY:           You know when this issue came before us back I believe it was January, there was some discussion among the board as to how the contract for pre trial supervision even came into existence. And am I correct Ms. Lord, at that time whenever a contract, when the contract, or prior to the contract with Wainwright, you all were both splitting those pre trial services, is that correct?

MS. LORD:           That’s correct.

COM. BAILEY:           And that you all can no longer perform those functions?

MS. LORD:           When the Lundsford incident occurred there was a question as to liability both to the County and to the Salvation Army and until that matter was solved the Salvation Army felt it better not to do any, so we handed to Wainwright all the ones we had at that time. And then there evidently was a meeting discussing that liability issue. I was not privy to that meeting, so that it took me a while after that meeting to find out that the county and, did not feel that there would be a problem as long as there was a covered liability through the Salvation Army, just as there is with Wainwright Judicial Services, and we have that liability. So that’s when it was decided that we should also attempt to get a contract so that there would be two agencies. When that was denied and then Mr. Feagle gave his opinion and it was sent on to the Judges, we are just resubmitting it, because after that opinion we realized that the county is in the position that they feel they need to have a contract.

COM. BAILEY:           Well, the position that I have with this is Wainwright stepped up to the plate and took those pre trial supervisions for Columbia County and Salvation Army didn’t. And with them taking, stepping up to the plate and doing that, I cannot support a contract. I agree one hundred percent with Commissioner Williams, I’m sorry with Commissioner Weaver. I have problems with the fact that you all have been accepting clients knowing that you don’t have a contract. It makes me wonder are you going to follow a contract if we have one together now.

MS. LORD:           (tries to speak; over talked by Mr. Bailey)

COM. BAILEY:           So with that being said, I make a motion to deny the contract request.

COMMISSIONER GEORGE SKINNER:           Second for discussion.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           Second for discussion. Commissioner Skinner.

COM. SKINNER:           Ms. Lord, let me understand. The Circuit Judge gave you an assignment order?

MS. LORD:           Yes sir.

COM. SKINNER:            To do these services?

MS. LORD:           Yes sir.

COM. SKINNER:           OK, Marlin. Who under the constitution, who has the authority here? Is it the Circuit Judge or is it the County Commission?

CNTY. ATNY FEAGLE:           Let me just tell you what the Statute says so it won’t be my opinion. It says a private entity under the supervision of the Board of County Commissioners or the Court, may provide probation services for offenders sentenced by the Court. So that says county commissioners or the court, but then the next part of that says that any private entity providing services for supervision of misdemeanor probationers, must contract with the county, in which the services are to be rendered. So it appears that there must be a contract with the county even though the court does the assignment to that agency, if there was more than one agency.

COM. SKINNER:           Well, why didn’t the court know that there was a contract already in place? Why would a judge continue to give, call up Ms. Lord and give it to her? I don’t understand that.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           I don’t think that’s an answer that Marlin can give.

(all speaking at once … inaudible)

COM. SKINNER:          I’m just trying to see what we’re up against here.

COM. BAILEY:           I think that’s an issue we need to get Marlin and County Staff and the Chief Judge and the Sheriff, since he releases those folks. We need to get them to sit down and work this issue out. And make sure that they are aware. If my motion passes, that we deny Salvation Army this contract, that they know that Wainwright and I believe that the Department of Corrections are the only two that have that ability.

COM. SKINNER:           I’m absolutely going to support that, but I think we need to look into this, because it is something that is going on that is inappropriate.

COM. BAILEY:       It is too much of a liability in my opinion for the citizens of Columbia County and for this Board.

COM. SKINNER:           I agree.

COM. WEAVER:           Discussion Madam Chair.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           Commissioner.

COM. WEAVER:           Ms. Lord, I have one more question.

MS. LORD:           Certainly.

COM. WEAVER:           You said that the Judges continue to send you orders to do that. Did anybody from Salvation Army contact any of the Judges?  Judge Douglas, Judge Bryan, or any of them and say, we do not have a contract with Columbia County to supervise these people?

MS. LORD:           The most recent judge that has been sending the few to us that we have, we don’t have very many at this time, is Judge Collins and he is aware that we didn’t have a contract. That he signed the proposed contract that was submitted earlier this year in favor of having one. So he is aware of that, yes.

COM. WEAVER:           OK. And just for those that were not here in the January meeting, the Board’s decision not to approve the contract was based in part on the fact that at one time Columbia County was left high and dry by the Salvation Army. They simply notified us they’d no longer do the process. Wainwright stepped in and did the probation hearing, but to do that they had to invest considerable money to do that and hire additional people to take care of that problem and so we feel that, we felt at that time that they had, should have the opportunity to recoup that investment that they’ve made by continuing to be the contract provider for Columbia County. And that was in part why the decision was made.

MS. LORD:           May I comment please?

COM. WEAVER:           Sure. Certainly.

MS. LORD:           There was a, just so that the Board, I don’t know if the Board’s familiar with the fact that the letter was written to the judges and the state attorney and the public defender advising them on May 24 of 2005 that we were not going to be able to do that based on the liability issues until they were settled. And a list was provided of the clients we had at the time, they type of supervision they were on and that we would do that as of June first. A very smooth transition, as far as I know of, went through. The clients came in on (inaudible) and I disconnected if they had any electronic monitorings. They went straight over to Wainwright Judicial Services without any problems that I am aware of on that day.

COM. WEAVER:           You sent the letter on what day?

MS. LORD:           May twenty fourth. I have a copy of it. (Lord looks through papers) May twenty fourth, two thousand five.

COM. BAILEY:            So you gave us six days notice.

MS. LORD:           That was immediately after the Lundsford, yes sir. There was just a question of liability, both for the County and for the Salvation Army. Evidently, a meeting was held later that summer, or early in September to discuss those liability issues and I was not privy to that meeting to know that there was not an issue any longer to why it was not (inaudible)

COM. BAILEY:           I didn’t think you would be if you were not going to supervise those services.

MS. LORD:           It was pending the liability issue, insurance issue, yes sir.

CHAIRPERSON PORTER:           Any further discussion by the Board? All right, we have a motion and a second. All in favor signal by saying AYE.

BOARD:       AYE.

(The motion carried unanimously)