GREENVILLE — Two Darke County judges have obtained legal counsel in a dispute regarding safety issues at the Darke County Courthouse.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jonathan P. Hein and Municipal Court Judge Julie L. Monnin will be represented by attorney Robert Fischer.
The conflict between the judges and commissioners revolves around the condition of the front steps of the courthouse, which are crumbling, as well as the desire on the part of the judges to improve overall security at the courthouse.
In an ironic twist, the Darke County Board of Commissioners Wednesday approved an application for Hein and Monnin to employ legal counsel to represent them in opposition to the commissioners.
Darke County Assistant Prosecutor Margaret Hayes told commissioners separate counsel was necessary, as there is a conflict of interest as the county’s attorneys represent all county employees, including the commissioners and judges.
Commissioners Mike Rhoades, Mike Stegall and Matt Aultman will be represented by Mark Landes, an attorney from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
“The conflict of interest is apparent,” Commissioner Aultman said. “Working together, it makes sense to get outside counsel through this situation and go through who has what authority.”
“Getting the steps fixed is just a safety issue,” Aultman said. “Security is a whole separate issue itself. Tying the two together has got us to this point.”
However, Judge Hein disagrees, saying the issue of fixing the aging, crumbling steps and providing better security measures at the courthouse can, and should be, addressed simultaneously.
“My goal is to fix the steps and secure the building. It’s not either or — we can do both,” said Hein, who pointed to a number of recent instances in which violent acts, including attacks on judges, have been carried out in courthouses with lax security.
Hein believes there should be only one entrance to the courthouse, other than exit-only doors for emergencies, and this entrance would feature a metal detector staffed with a deputy during business hours.
“I don’t know how we can expect the sheriff to cover three doors with three metal detectors, with three sets of people,” he said.
“It’s not just about security for the judge, it’s security for people who come in the building,” Hein added. “Our biggest problem is threats to the public. You bring in people that are upset with each other, you put them in a place, and you hope they’re civil. So the first protection is for the public.”
Asked if it will be feasible to address the courthouse issues, given Darke County faces a $1 million budget shortfall in 2019, Aultman said, “I think overall the steps are going to get fixed, just for the safety of the public, no matter what the cost is. We already had that figured within the capital improvement budget to get them corrected and fixed.”
Both parties expressed hope discussions between legal counsel will result in a satisfactory solution.