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Deputies to be appointed to Lycoming County magisterial courts

Close-up Of Male Judge In Front Of Mallet Holding Documents
AndreyPopov/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Close-up Of Male Judge In Front Of Mallet Holding Documents

Lycoming County Commissioners have approved deputies for magisterial courts.

A total of five deputies will be at magisterial offices outside of Williamsport for better protection. Commissioners unanimously approved the motion during their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. The push for appointing deputies was recommended by county sheriff, R. Mark Lusk.

According to Commissioner Mark Mussina, the board of commissioners have the ability to appoint full-time deputies with the consideration that they are going to the district magistrates’ offices. Lusk will have the final decision on where to put them.

The added protection was prompted by the large volume of court appearances at the county's outlying magisterial offices. Officials say, outside of emergency buttons, those offices lack safety provided by on-sight authorities.

“We felt it was necessary for the safety of the public, staff and judges that we have adequate personnel there to keep those offices safe,” Chairman Scott Metzger said.

The five positions will cover 85 percent of the five district courts outside of Williamsport. An additional 15 percent of coverage has been planned to cover as much of a full day as they can, according to Lusk.

“The disputes between neighbors, the disputes within a family structure, all of the bad and even worse people come into the MDJ office first. They have no protection and their protection is to push an alarm and have it go to a monitoring center and maybe get a phone call from law enforcement,” he said.

Three magisterial district justices from outlying areas of the county attended the meeting. Each gave their discrepancies and history, explaining why they need more protection in their courtroom. District Judge Gary Whiteman, who represents the Montoursville area, called the push for deputy appointees “an incredibly proactive step by the sheriff to address issues.”

“We have conversations monthly about ‘what do you want to give judges? Do you want to give them tasers, pepper spray?’ Those of us who are conceal carry holders, is that what we want to do from the bench? I don’t think so, it's a community court. We are supposed to be the place where people can come and have that open discussion,” he expressed.

With current safety measures, the push of an emergency button can take time for a response. District Judge Kirsten Garner, who represents Muncy, has one of those buttons in her office.

“Thankfully, other local authorities were able to come in as well but the safety risk we have everyday is that I will have to wait generally for that 10 or 15 minute ride from state police,” Gardner said.

District Judge Denise Dieter, who represents the Jersey Shore area, said she is alone much of the time in her office. She related there are no cameras, no one can hear her and that there are three doors between her and her staff.

“If something happens to me, nobody will know and I likely won't be able to get to a button or some other method of self defense… I have had people come straight up to me, rip files out of my hand and try to get behind the bench,” she told commissioners.

Dieter related several incidents that she experienced in her court that she deemed “scary” including a moped driven into her building.

Gardner related an incident when an inmate ripped a soap dispenser off the wall, caused self harm and threatened constables who were trying to intervene.

“We get calls daily from individuals, where they are really aggressive with staff… We are dealing with individuals that don’t understand the law and the consequences to what has happened to them in their life, and they’re upset. Some of them have mental health that we are not equipped to deal with on a daily basis. When they come into our courtroom, we are trying to mitigate when they come in angry. We are doing our best but we don’t have any safety precautions,” Gardner said.

Lycoming County magistrates hope the approval of deputies brings more peace of mind and security in their offices.

Chase Bottorf is a graduate of Lock Haven University and holds a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in writing. Having previously been a reporter for the Lock Haven news publication, The Express, he is aware of the unique issues in the Lycoming County region, and has ties to the local communities.

You can email Chase at chasebottorf@wvia.org