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Armstrong prison board considers late-night judges

KITTANNING -- Armstrong County Prison Board members will decide whether district judges should be on call for late-night preliminary arraignments.

The matter was discussed by board members and district judges on Thursday at the Armstrong County Jail.

Warden David Hogue said President Judge Kenneth Valasek asked that the topic be placed on the agenda for discussion.

According to county Commissioner Richard L. Fink, who is president of the prison board, judicial rules say the court has a right to make changes to the hours of availability of district judges after normal working hours.

"We took the information (provided) by the courts and magistrates. We'll analyze the costs and look at the benefits versus the negatives," said Fink.

If the hours are changed, Fink said, he understands that the on-call magisterial district judge would not be available for arraignments or services between the hours of 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Because of the time lapse, there are possible liability and cost issues that need to be considered, Fink said.

"If the jail is holding someone being charged (before their preliminary arraignment), who is responsible if they get sick and are in need of immediate medical care?" he asked.

Fink said Hogue expressed concerns about staffing issues at the jail in the event of an increase in the number of people held temporarily while awaiting arraignment and suggested two full-time positions may need to be added.

"We hope to have (information) analyzed by the next prison board meeting to give our recommendations to the court," said Fink.

Cutting hours for district court judges has been considered in other counties.

Gregory Briggs, Somerset County warden, said the issue was discussed but has not yet been put into effect because of the cost. He said the jail population has increased and the county is not able to hire new staff right now to process defendants who must stay at the jail while awaiting a preliminary arraignment.

Valasek and District Judges Samuel R. Goldstrohm and James Andring could not be reached for comment. District Attorney Scott Andreassi, who is vice president of the prison board, declined comment. District Judges James Owen and J. Gary DeComo were contacted but declined to discuss the issue.

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