Pocketknife prompts showdown between judge, sheriff

- At the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, the deputies who once provided security are gone and the security machines have been pushed aside.

"For us, it's been an eye-opener," said Colonel Kurt Hoffman. "We've done a lot of research, we feel like we are on solid ground here."

It all started last month when deputies in charge of security told State Senator Greg Steube he could not bring his pocketknife into the building.  Steube disagreed, citing State Statue 790.6.

Under the law, concealed weapons are not allowed in courtrooms or courthouses, but they are allowed in public buildings -- and the sheriff's office is a "public building."

The law also said deputies could be sued for violating the rights of concealed weapons holders, said Hoffman.

"The sheriff has just reiterated several times: It's just unfair to put the line-level deputy in a position where they can be sued," he said.

Sheriff Tom Knight and his legal team agreed with Senator Steube and pulled security from the sheriff's office and the clerk of court's office.  That drew a sharp rebuke from Chief Judge Charles Williams, who issued an order demanding deputies to be reinstated by 5 p.m. Monday.

If not, the sheriff could be held in contempt of court.

"In Judge Williams' orders, he used the term 'court facility,' which is not found anywhere in 790 and expands it to all these other offices where court is not being held," said Hoffman.

The sheriff said Hoffman said the judge's order isn't valid, because neither the sheriff's office nor the clerk's office is inside a courthouse.

Senator Steube said the sheriff is right.

"If the clerk's office and some of these other government buildings want to have a security station there, they can, but they cannot deny the rights of concealed carried permit holders from entering the building, period," Steube insisted.

To be sure, the sheriff's office has asked the Second District Court of Appeals for its opinion.  Meanwhile, Judge Williams isn't commenting, but the court administrator released a statement saying, "The court system respects the right of the sheriff to take this action and will let the matter take its proper legal course."

"Whether you agree or disagree with that philosophy, that is the way the Legislature set it up.  And that is what the sheriff needs to comply with," Hoffman added.

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