Local judge: Home phones of officials a public thing|[3/13/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 13, 2006

At least one circuit judge in Warren County does not see the practicality of a measure to change state law to restrict personal phone numbers of law enforcement officials from public record.

&#8220I don’t see where it could have an impact,” Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor said this morning, adding that elected public officials &#8220must remain available” to their constituents.

Despite a handful of times in the past where calls have resulted in threats, Vollor said he did not see where concealing the private number of judges, district attorneys, sheriffs and other law officers would help.

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”I could always get a private line if I wanted to,” Vollor said, adding that attorneys have called his private phone number on occasion to update him of emergency information in cases.

The House gave final approval to the bill last week, agreeing to an amendment from the Senate that provided that the names of the public officials wouldn’t be closed to the public. The original House version, House Bill 1454, had actually said their identities would not be public record.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said he voted for the bill as a security measure to protect judicial and law enforcement officials from harmful threats such as defendants and terrorism.

&#8220It gives them a level of protection,” Flaggs said, adding that phone numbers to their offices would remain public.

The legislation also protects certain types of communication between law enforcement officials and emergency responders during stress-related counseling sessions. Divulging the information restricted by the bill would be a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine up to $500.

The bill, if signed into law, would take effect July 1.

Its passage coincides with the beginning of Sunshine Week, spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.