The responsibility for entry screening and courtroom security at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta and Waterville District Court is shifting from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to the state Office of the Judicial Marshal after a recent staffing shortage.

It means that the officers working at the courthouses will be state employees rather than county workers and that the blazers will be dark blue rather than black. The change takes effect beginning in July.

For more than 15 years, the county has provided security at the Augusta and Waterville courthouses through a contract with the state. But lately more judicial marshals have been working to fill gaps on shifts at the Augusta courthouse following several court security staff departures.

“We agreed we will not be renewing the contract,” said Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator.

Kennebec is one of three Maine counties in which the sheriff’s office has provided court security rather than the Office of the Judicial Marshal, which is headquartered at the Capital Judicial Center. Sheriff’s departments in Somerset and Lincoln counties continue to provide court security in those locations, which have less traffic and a smaller caseload than Kennebec. In late 2013, the marshal service took over security details at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies still will be seen at the courthouses, because they escort inmates to and from the buildings.

In the courthouse, court security officers function as bailiffs, calling the court to order when the judge enters and exits. They have arrested people and sometimes become involved in cases themselves.

Devlin said that the court staffing decision was made by the county commissioners several weeks ago. “It was a consensus,” Devlin said. “Renewing the contract would have required a vote.”

He also said the county employees in those jobs have been notified.

Devlin said there have been some gaps “because we’re not running around hiring” and that the county has been working closely with Michael Coty, the judicial marshal.

The March 2015 opening of the Capital Judicial Center with its six courtrooms and access to a seventh in the Kennebec County Courthouse “changed the whole profile of the thing,” Devlin said. And now some remodeling under way on the fourth floor means even more judges will have chambers there.

Then there was the staffing problem.

“We had authorized four full-time positions, and three went vacant most recently,” Devlin said. One person retired, one went to a local police agency and a third resigned. The resignation came from Sgt. Joel Eldridge, who was the subject of an internal investigation after taking a cellphone photo of a defense attorneys notes on Feb. 28, 2017, and emailing it to the prosecutor in the case. Eldridge was placed on leave and resigned at the conclusion of the investigation.

Eldridge also found himself in a situation earlier of becoming involved in a cause at the courthouse. Eldridge overheard a South China man threaten to kill his ex-wife as well as the district court judge, who had denied him a protection from abuse order against his ex-wife in August 2012. The man ultimately was ordered to serve 90 days in jail for terrorizing.

“Sheriffs historically provided court security, and we have honored their commitment to do so as long as they met the conditions defined in our contracts, and were willing to do so for the amount we were able to pay,” Mary Ann Lynch, communications director for the Maine Judicial Branch, said via email Thursday. “Once sheriffs give up court security, the judicial marshals assume that responsibility.”

As of Monday, it appears that Lt. Robert Annese will be the only full-time employee remaining in the court security division of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. There are also a dozen part-time security officers working at courts in Augusta and Waterville.

The marshal’s office anticipates employing one sergeant and seven deputy marshals full-time for Augusta and Waterville. “We don’t yet know how many part-time officers we will need,” Lynch said.

Those hired will be state workers. “We can utilize some qualified individuals with whom we contract, but these positions are state employees,” Lynch said. She also said the other “qualified individuals” come through staffing agencies, such as Manpower.

“There are 85 court security employees, augmented by some contractors and sheriffs, providing protection to the 63 judges, court employees and the public in 36 courthouses across the state,” Lynch said. “Last year we spent $6.5 million on security.”

Coty, the judicial marshal, was unavailable to speak to a reporter Thursday. “He is actually working in Houlton or on his way there for coverage, due to staff shortages,” Lynch said.

Devlin said he expected that some of the current court security officers will apply for the state jobs.

“All qualified individuals with an interest in joining the marshal service are encouraged to apply.” Lynch said. Under the current contract, Kennebec County court security officers received $13 to $18 per hour in wages, depending on experience. Benefits were available only for full-time officers, those working 30 hours a week or more.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams