When the city of Dunwoody was forming in 2008, Larry Echikson and Jim Sturgis got involved by serving on a law enforcement task force and giving their input on how the future city should operate.
And when it came to organize the court system, the search began for bailiffs.
“They put an ad in the paper looking for bailiffs in the court. We went over and talked to [city officials],” Sturgis said. “If you bring in police officers to do that, you either bring them off the streets or you bring them in off duty and pay them.”
So the question was posed: Do the bailiffs need to be paid at all?
And with that, Sturgis and Echikson stepped up for the job and the city’s group of volunteer bailiffs was formed.
“We’re all residents of Dunwoody and that’s one thing we’re proud of — is to be able to help the city,” Sturgis said. “We have a rotating group of judges that come into court. None have said they’ve been in a court with volunteer bailiffs.”
Dunwoody Clerk Trina Gallien said it isn’t very common to have a group of volunteer bailiffs like Dunwoody’s.
“It’s not something I’ve encountered in general in local government,” Gallien said. “I think it’s unique and I think it’s a great asset, them doing that for the city.”
Gallien said the bailiffs are an important part of the municipal court operation.
“They enjoy doing it and we enjoy having them in court. We couldn’t do it without their service,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing they do not only for the court but for the city and their community. It’s really nice when you can have citizens get involved with their local government.”
Judge Tony DelCampo said he “can’t say enough” about the volunteer bailiffs in Dunwoody.
“People come to municipal court and they’re not necessarily happy to be there,” DelCampo said. “To have those folks there to receive all of the individuals that come to the court room and treat them with respect and professionalism … that really is remarkable in my mind. They’re just phenomenal individuals who give of their time and talents for the benefit of the city and that is the epitome of public service.”
The group of six bailiffs is composed of mostly retired, long-time Dunwoody residents, though they all come to the court with different backgrounds and skills.
Sturgis is a former FBI agent. Echikson retired from Wells Fargo. Another bailiff owned a bridal shop while one worked in the healthcare industry.
“It’s just a miscellaneous group of people,” Sturgis said.
They share a love for their community and enthusiasm for their volunteer work.
“It’s been a fun experience for all of us,” Sturgis said. “That’s why I think the original group is still there.”
Echikson said it has been a labor of love over the past two years.
“We’ve been there for about 170 court sessions and each court session can run three to five hours,” Echikson said. “We’ve put in over 2,900 hours of volunteer work.”
Echikson said during municipal court sessions, which take place on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings, there are typically five or six bailiffs and one armed police officer present.
“Our No. 1 priority is to provide security and safety in the court room for defendants, judges, prosecutors and people in the court,” Echikson said. “We also manage court staff in the movement of people and paperwork.”
The bailiffs say they enjoy their work because it is challenging and interesting. Often, people who come to the courtroom are very angry and can create difficult situations, Echikson said.
People come to municipal court for offenses varying from speeding tickets and driving under the influence to shoplifting.
“No one is pleased to be there. No one wants to come to court,” Echikson said. “I like when we have a difficult person and we’re able to communicate with them and de-escalate situations verbally.”
Sturgis said the volunteer bailiffs all enjoy working with the people in municipal court.
“All of us have the ability to deal with people on different levels,” Sturgis said. “We have a big mix of people. We have every segment of society in court … We want to make a bad situation as good as possible for them.”