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Windsor Star 2008/10/03 Article
"No cops? Court closed"

By Sarah Sacheli and Trevor Wilhelm

An out-of-town justice of the peace abruptly cancelled a Windsor court hearing Thursday after realizing no police officers were assigned to the courtroom, known among staff as "Jerry Springer court" for the unruly behaviour that can occur there.

Robert Seneshen had court staff call repeatedly over the public address system for security for Courtroom 9 in the Ontario court of justice building where he was to hear applications for peace bonds, often referred to as restraining orders. Officers do not normally sit in peace bond court in Windsor.

Before stepping away from the bench, Seneshen said this is the only jurisdiction he knows of that does not have security officers in peace bond court.

"I don't fault the justice of the peace for taking the position that he did," said defence lawyer Ken Marley.

"The most at-risk from a security prospective are the family courts and the peace bond courts."

Court staff refer to peace bond court as "Jerry Springer court" -- where neighbour disputes and marital issues are aired with the least amount of decorum of any of the courtrooms. Since Legal Aid won't pay for lawyers for peace bonds, litigants often represent themselves.

Lawyer Ken Golish was in the middle of a hearing Thursday morning, on behalf of a man whose estranged wife was seeking a peace bond against him. While dealing with a procedural issue, Seneshen asked why there was no court security. He later cut proceedings short.

"I was kind of surprised about it," said Golish.

Seneshen couldn't be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Golish said he doesn't think it was necessary to have officers in the room for security. "My personal opinion, no, I don't think so," said Golish. "I'm not personally concerned about it."

Deputy Chief Jerome Brannagan said representatives of the Windsor police service, responsible for court security, met with Seneshen Thursday to explain the security plan.

"The gentleman accepted what we had to say, I'm told, but still took it upon himself to not open the court," said Brannagan. "That's what my information is."

Under the plan, Brannagan said Windsor police have several officers and special constables on security detail, though not in every courtroom.

"Our plan does put sworn people in the building with radio communications throughout that are prepared to respond to any incident that takes place," he said. "Our track record has been exceptional in dealing with those security issues as they arise. We don't put people in specific courts unless there is a specific reason to do that."

Brannagan wouldn't say how many officers are assigned to court on a regular basis.

"It's just like you saying, 'how many police officers do you have on the street today patrolling the city,'" said Brannagan. "It's the type of thing that we don't give out, basically for security reasons."

"We have certain minimums in our plan and those minimums are always adhered to."

The plan has been reviewed repeatedly, he said. "We have that plan, we've had that plan for quite some time," said Brannagan.

"During that time, our security plan was reviewed internally, it was reviewed externally by the Ministry of the Attorney General's office. We are satisfied that our court security plan is more than adequate."

Windsor Star