Courthouse security

Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew stands outside the Woodbury County Courthouse in a 2015 file photo.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | Several Woodbury County officials said the only way to resolve an impasse on the functioning of a broadened gun rights law is for a test case somewhere in the state challenging whether the Iowa court system has authority to keep guns out of courthouses or if people with legal-carry permits can have them in the buildings.

In a two-hour discussion on two gun-related agenda items during the County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Sheriff Dave Drew announced he had gotten legal representation from a city attorney.

Additionally, county Human Resources Department Director Ed Gilliland said he had used a city law firm, after consulting with Board Chairman Matthew Ung, for questions concerning a new piece in the county employee handbook that gives them the go-ahead to bring guns into the Woodbury County Courthouse on Wednesday. The supervisors voted 3-1 to approve that part of the employee handbook.

These were among the moves that were aired in the meeting, amid the confusing time since the new gun law arrived on July 1. There was spirited carping back and forth by Ung and Drew, including charges that they were sharing unprofessional posts about the gun topic on their personal Facebook accounts.

Ung and Drew are on opposite sides of the issue on whether the sheriff should continue to enforce a county security plan designed to keep weapons out of the courthouse in downtown Sioux City. Two weeks ago, a majority of the supervisors voted to rescind a ban on weapons on county property, including the county courthouse. The supervisors said that was necessary to comply with the new state law expanding gun rights.

However, Drew said he plans to keep enforcing the security program in the courthouse, which includes personnel staffing metal detectors. Two workers were scanning people on Tuesday.

The big question is whether the gun law passed in April conflicted with a June 19 judicial branch supervisory order by the Iowa Supreme Court to ban weapons in courthouses.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors voted to post a notice that "we will comply with the judicial order," Plymouth County Supervisor Don Kass said in an evening interview.

Kass also said a legal court battle will ultimately be needed to decide the issue.

The Iowa Supreme Court in June issued a statewide order banning weapons in all courthouses and court-controlled areas by people other than law enforcement.

The new law, among other things, broadens the state’s so-called stand-your-ground provision, so a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.

Supervisor Jeremy Taylor for the second meeting in a row said that if some aggrieved resident brings legal action that gun rights under the new law aren't recognized in the courthouse, that lawsuit would be brought not against the county supervisors but the Sheriff's Office. Taylor said law-abiding citizens who have a permit for a gun should be able to bring one into the courthouse.

Drew said he pursued legal counsel since Woodbury County Attorney P.J.  Jennings declared a conflict in providing legal services to the sheriff and the county board. Jennings at several points in the meeting said he would not provide legal interpretations of the many questions aired Tuesday.

Drew said he got personal legal counsel not to sue the county, but to ensure he was on solid ground for his position on acting contrary to the county supervisors' stance. It took the county supervisors two vote attempts to agree to pay up to $10,000 in Drew's legal fees, as Ung said, "There is no absolute right to outside legal counsel."

Ung said the county supervisors' stance is to ensure that laws passed by the Legislature are followed, to avoid threats of lawsuits by gun owners.

Drew said Iowa sheriffs are required to help carry out rulings by courts. The Supreme Court supervisory order said that "all weapons are prohibited from courtrooms, court-controlled spaces and public areas of courthouses."

"I'm a Second Amendment sheriff. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It has to do with the integrity of the courthouse," Drew said.

Drew said the security crew workers provide such good service that there is no reason for a member of the public to need a gun to defend selves in the courthouse.

Drew also told the supervisors he would not prevent county workers with legal-carry permits from bringing guns into the building starting Wednesday, but would halt all other people from bringing them in. Beyond court rooms, the Woodbury County Courthouse also houses several departments.

A dozen people came in support of Drew's position on keeping guns out of the courthouse. Some intended to speak, but left in two waves after the discussion moved well beyond one hour.

Jackie Stellish, of Sioux City, said she comes from a long history of gun owners but said it was misguided to not follow the Iowa Supreme Court order.

"I will steer clear of this building," Stellish said.

Taylor spoke of his "ire" against Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady, stating he was a "Supreme Court justice pretending to be a legislator."

"(Cady) ignored the Constitution. He ignored the law. He should run for the Legislature," Taylor said.

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County and education reporter

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