Dallas County court judges are grappling with security and office furniture as 2011 begins.
County Commissioner John Wiley Price said some judges had no furniture as they took office Monday after their predecessors evidently carted it away in their last few days.
Incoming Justice of the Peace Carlos Medrano said his office was empty, and files and cases were in disarray. He brought in his own desk, but it had no legs, so he was nearly sitting on the floor Tuesday to get work started in his new office with his staff.
"We're trying to get back in business," Medrano said.
Price said Dallas County lacks a proper inventory system to track which offices are equipped with personal furniture purchased by the office holder and which have county-owned furniture.
"We're going to have to tighten this up," he said. "This is all about productivity. This is all about us keeping a tight rein on what’s going on."
Price said county workers are looking for surplus equipment to furnish the new judges' offices. He said the transition problems are the worst he’s seen in the more than two decades he’s been in office, but also said the departing office holders who left messes behind are chiefly to blame.
"I don't think it has anything to do with money," he said. "I think it has to do with rancor. I think it has to do with pettiness. The voters spoke. It was petty."
Dallas County commissioners discussed the furniture woes and a plan to replace armed sheriff’s department bailiffs with unarmed security officers in courtrooms during their first meeting of 2011 on Tuesday.
Several judges confronted commissioners to complain about the cost-saving proposal. At least one judge has agreed to try the idea, but other judges say it is a security risk.
Judge Martin Lowy of the 101st District Civil Court said courthouses in other cities have been subject to shootings by visitors.
"I would not want to be the one to tell the victim of some act of violence in a courtroom, 'Well, we didn't have a sheriff's deputy there because we couldn't afford it,'" Lowy told commissioners.
County officials say there will still be sufficient security in and around courtrooms but a pending county budget shortfall of more than $20 million demands efficiency.
Price, who supports the judge who is testing unarmed guards, said the critics are overreacting.
"They'll have real difficulty -- if he has a lot of success -- to continue to say they want an armed bailiff. An armed bailiff is a lot more expensive," Price said.
The Commissioners Court's two new commissioners participated in the meeting for the first time.
They join returning commissioners Price, Mike Cantrell and Maurine Dickey. Jenkins, Garcia and Price are Democrats, returning the Commissioners Court to a Democratic majority for the first time in more than 20 years.
All of the members welcomed each other with pleasant comments Tuesday and said they expect to handle county business with a professional and harmonious atmosphere despite the problems they face.