York County judge issues emergency order slamming sheriff's handling of PFA defendant
- "Security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain," the judge said. "When exceptions are made based upon personal familiarity, social status or individual wealth, then security no longer exists," York County Judge Craig Trebilcock said.
A York County judge on Monday morning issued an interim emergency order requiring the county sheriff's office to properly screen all members of the public coming into his courtroom, despite who they know or how much money they have.
Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock read his five-page statement and order into the record after taking the bench about 9 a.m. Monday, July 29.
The judge noted that the York County commissioners "have unanimously concluded that the sheriff was derelict in his duty to properly screen a former felon who was admitted to a PFA proceeding ... to which the felon was a named party, without having been searched or screened through available metal detectors ... or X-ray screening, and after being afforded a special privilege to park in the same secure parking structure below this courthouse as the judge who would decide the outcome of his proceeding."
Trebilcock also said that the hearing for the protection of abuse order was not before him or in his courtroom but that he used it as an example because "it is the progeny of a policy position assumed by the Sheriff that runs afoul of this Court's ethical duties."
York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber "indicates that he has previously forgone standard security screening procedures ... without notice to this court," the judge read, and "has asserted that he has the sole discretion to do so, even when the individual in question is a convicted felon."
Trebilcock is referring to York County businessman Bill Hynes — CEO of United Fiber & Data and affiliated with Think Loud Development — whom the sheriff allowed to park in the judicial center's private secure lot under the building on July 15 when Hynes came for a PFA hearing in which he is the named defendant.
At a PFA hearing on Monday, both Hynes and his ex-girlfriend entered into an agreement without admission of wrongdoing that keeps the PFA in place until July 29, 2022, according to court records.
The judge said he was issuing the emergency interim security order for his courtroom because Keuerleber hasn't publicly indicated he intends to "desist from permitting those with prior serious criminal records from bypassing the security screening protocols."
Trebilcock noted that security in the courthouse is a shared responsibility and that county judges have a legal responsibility to ensure proceedings in their courtrooms are conducted in a way "that promotes public confidence in the justice system."
The order is an emergency interim order only, for Trebilcock's courtroom only, and it will remain in effect unless and until superseded by any orders or policies adopted by York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams, by the entire bench of York County judges or by the results of a security review now being done at the request of the York County Commissioners.
"I'll honor any order directed by the judge," Keuerleber told The York Dispatch on Monday afternoon.
He declined to answer subsequent questions, saying he has already been transparent with The York Dispatch. Last week, the sheriff twice sat down with a Dispatch reporter to answer questions.
The background: Keuerleber has previously said Hynes, who donates money to the sheriff's K-9 division to help support the dogs, especially Dargo, has been allowed to park in the secure lot in the past to visit Dargo.
The sheriff said he knew Hynes was ordered to appear at a PFA hearing on July 15 and allowed him to use the secure lot. Keuerleber told The York Dispatch that he escorted Hynes from the lot to the fourth-floor annex of the sheriff's office, which houses the K-9 unit.
There, Hynes visited Dargo in the presence of Lt. David Godfrey, after which he was allowed to walk out of the office and onto the public area of the fourth floor, the sheriff has said.
No exceptions? Trebilcock noted that when people aren't properly screened for weapons and other illicit objects before being admitted to courtrooms, they "are a threat not only to general safety, but to that order which the Rules of Judicial Conduct requires the presiding judge to maintain."
He said he and other judges rely on the idea that everyone in their courtrooms has been properly screened — "regardless of their socioeconomic class, personal familiarity of security personnel with the individual or any other irrelevant factor."
"Security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain," the judge said. "When exceptions are made based upon personal familiarity, social status or individual wealth, then security no longer exists."
Trebilcock praised the sheriff's deputies whose job it is to maintain safety and security within York County's courtrooms, describing them as courteous, dedicated and efficient.
"This court daily trusts them with its life, with great confidence," he said.
But when security measures aren't equally applied to the public, it undermines the order and decorum of the court and can cause the public to lose confidence in the system and whether it is unbiased, according to Trebilcock.
One standard for all: The judge noted that it's necessary to have one standard for all "lay persons" appearing before York County's judges and said it is "at the heart of the court's mission to deliver justice in an impartial, unbiased manner."
The Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct not only requires judges to avoid bias, prejudice and harassing behavior, it orders that judges "shall not permit court staff, court officials or others subject to the judge's direction and control to do so," Trebilcock said.
"The judge cannot sit idly by and permit any of the individuals playing their respective roles in the justice system to act with bias, prejudice or harassment, and thereby trigger a ripple effect under which the fairness and impartiality of the entire justice system is called into question," the judge said from the bench.
If judges tolerated such conduct, "public faith in the justice system would rapidly erode," he continued.
"There are not favored individuals or classes of persons appearing before the courts," Trebilcock said. "Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. The court system does not have a first class and economy partition."
'Corrosive impact': When such special treatment happens, he said, "there is a threat to the impartiality of the justice system. There is a threat to public confidence in the justice system."
Trebilcock cited special parking, personal escorts by high-ranking courthouse officials and use of areas not open to the public to wait for court proceedings as examples.
All were afforded to Hynes, according to Keuerleber's statements.
"(T)hese types of special benefits afforded on an arbitrary basis to any litigant are inappropriate and convey an aura of an uneven playing field, colored with bias, that undermines the judge's authority and duty to maintain impartiality in the courtroom," Trebilcock said.
"A primary focus anywhere but on the corrosive impact such favoritism or bias plays across the entire justice system is misplaced," the judge said.
Trebilcock ordered that no member of the public, including witnesses and jurors or any other noncourt personnel, is allowed in his courtroom without first going through "standard county security protocols and procedures."
His order states that if the regular screening equipment isn't available, the sheriff's office will notify him of that fact.
Advance notice: The order also states that the sheriff's office must give Trebilcock and all parties to a matter in his courtroom 48 hours' notice if a witness or party to a case is provided "anything of value by the Sheriff's department that is not available to the general public, including but not limited to free parking."
The advance notice will give the opposing party the time to raise an objection, seek relief "including the recusal of the Sheriff's Department, if bias, prejudice, or harassment is demonstrated," the order states.
The judge said the order affects his courtroom only.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.