Sheriff: Court strains finances
East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said the cost of providing deputies to guard the 19th Judicial Courthouse is putting a strain on his budget, which is why he sought guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office to determine who is responsible for footing the bill.
As required by state law, the sheriff provides one deputy per courtroom at the courthouse located on North Boulevard in downtown Baton Rouge and is reimbursed by the city-parish for these costs to the tune of $152,184 annually, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
But Gautreaux said in his letter to the attorney general that the judges located in the new courthouse set forth a plan for the sheriff’s deputies to provide additional security, beyond what he is reimbursed for by the city-parish. The judges requested additional security throughout the courthouse and guarding the entrances of the 11-story building.
Gautreaux noted in his letter that neither the city-parish, nor the judges, provide additional compensation to “contribute to the salary and benefits of the deputies working in these areas of the courthouse.”
In total, Hicks said, the cost to employ 49 deputies to guard the courthouse year round is $2.7 million, meaning that after the city-parish reimbursement is applied, the Sheriff’s Office is still on the hook for $2.5 million.
“We spend an exorbitant amount on courtroom security,” Gautreaux said in an interview. “I wanted to get some clarification as to who is ultimately responsible for paying for that, for future reference.”
In a Feb. 7 opinion, the Attorney General’s Office opined that the city-parish is responsible for the costs of courthouse security.
“The City/Parish has agreed to perform day-to-day operating and maintenance services for the facility as required by statute,” the opinion reads. “Therefore, it is the opinion of this office that the City/Parish is responsible for providing security for the Ninteenth Judicial District courthouse under its contractual obligations as well.”
Mayor-President Kip Holden stressed that the attorney general’s opinion is not binding. He said the city-parish is already reimbursing the Sheriff’s Office for what is required by the law.
He said the law outlines “reasonable costs” for which the city-parish will reimburse the Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re not going to venture off into another expense that’s never been considered as a reasonable cost,” Holden said. “The sheriff has money, let him use his own money.”
He said his administration and the Metro Council have a “fi duciary responsibility to the people of this city and parish, and that’s not one of our priority items.”
Gautreaux said he was still evaluating his options and comparing his costs to other sheriff’s offices’ budgets.
“It’s something I’ll probably be addressing with the judges or the city-parish at some time,” he said.
Lea Anne Batson, an assistant parish attorney, said her office has reviewed the attorney general’s opinion. She said the city-parish was not involved in the negotiations between the Sheriff’s Office and the judges that resulted in providing additional security at the Sheriff’s Office expense.
“The Finance Department is aware of the issue and will be working with the Sheriff’s Office and the District Court to determine the appropriate level of security given our budgetary constraints,” Batson said.