Weekend bond hearings eyed over cost, security

A weekend in the Mesa County Jail may last a day longer for some inmates as the county reconsiders the cost-effectiveness of hosting Sunday advisements.

The lobby of the sheriff’s office at 215 Rice St. turns into a makeshift courtroom for bond hearings at 9 a.m. every Sunday except for holidays. The county pays for a magistrate who is not a regular 21st Judicial District judge to handle the proceedings. The county spent $7,200 for the magistrate’s Sunday services last year and has spent $4,200 so far in 2013 for her work, according to Mesa County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin.

On-duty Mesa County Sheriff’s deputies, usually one or two, attend the meetings to help out if the audience at the advisements becomes unruly. A lack of sufficient screening for weapons and hosting the meetings in what can sometimes become a cramped lobby is something that worries Sheriff Stan Hilkey, especially if the deputies are needed elsewhere during Sunday proceedings.

“I worry what would happen if they had to leave,” he said Tuesday during a quarterly criminal justice briefing with Mesa County commissioners.

Not everyone bonds out and the cost of allowing people arrested Friday night or later in the weekend the chance to leave on Sunday instead of Monday isn’t saving much in terms of emptying jail beds, according to District Attorney Pete Hautzinger. Like Hilkey, he has concerns about the safety and professionalism of the Sunday advisements, which place the magistrate at a desk in the lobby with a microphone and a video monitor to talk to inmates.

“It’s embarrassing, I just think it’s a joke,” Hautzinger said, later referring to the operation as “a kangaroo court.”

Hautzinger said he emailed Hilkey and others to inquire how much the Sunday proceedings actually save in terms of clearing beds. He also wanted to know what it would cost to improve the safety of the advisements, possibly by moving them to a more secure area in the Mesa County Justice Center, something he said he assumes would cost too much to be a possibility.

Hilkey said those numbers will be looked at but his assumption is the county will end up telling the local court system that the Sunday arraignments benefit the courts in terms of lowering their Monday case loads more than the jail unless the 21st Judicial District is willing to help fund the process or rotate in its weekday judges.

The Mesa County Jail hit a record high of 432 inmates June 19. It was designed to fit 392 beds when it was built in 1992.


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