After a man was arrested for online solicitation of a minor, which he in part allegedly did on a county computer, and the librarian of the Grayson County Law Library was terminated, the Grayson County Commissioners Court discussed what do with the library and what policies should be implemented to better secure the courthouse.
While no action was taken Tuesday on the two related agenda items, several ideas were floated on what to do with the library located inside the courthouse. Grayson County Judge Bill Magers opened discussion on the topic and raised the idea of whether or not moving the library to another location is a viable option.
“I think one of the questions we need to look at is, A: We all agree we need a resource center — a library of some sort — where does it need to be located?” Magers said. “Is the current model the most efficient model? If not, what are some alternatives?”
Magers also asked about what spaces are available and if the county is using its resources efficiently. He suggested the library could be moved to the Sherman Public Library or to Austin College, which Magers noted both have at least expressed interest in discussing the matter. Magers noted that the reason for this discussion occurring Tuesday was because of the recent events with the law library.
“We’ve had some unfortunate incidents a couple weeks ago that have led to the closing of the library, and I thought it was an appropriate time to revisit this issue,” Magers said.
After midnight on April 28, authorities responded to a report of a man inside the Grayson County Courthouse. Police found Joshua Barrier, who said he was granted permission to be in the law library for legal research. Authorities later confirmed with the county law librarian Virginia Eldridge who said she had allowed Barrier to stay after hours, and she said she had allowed attorneys in the past to remain in the library after closing.
The District Attorney’s office conducted a review of the incident, which eventually led to Eldridge’s termination and more details on Barrier’s activity while inside the library.
Barrier was arrested last week for online solicitation of a minor after a Whitesboro Police Department investigation that began in January. The parents of a 16-year-old boy reported to police that their son was having inappropriate sexual conversations with an adult through Facebook. Authorities identified the adult as Barrier and among the IP addresses associated with Barrier was one for a computer on the county’s network.
District Attorney Joe Brown previously said he found out about the Whitesboro investigation last Wednesday and that Barrier was apparently “using the county computer network to contact this minor.” He noted that they do not believe Eldridge had any knowledge of Barrier’s alleged illegal activity, and she was a model employee. He said she was taken advantage of, but she ultimately made the decision to allow him to be unsupervised inside the law library.
“That decision, however, showed very poor judgment, and it put county property at risk, it exposed other county employees to risk, and ultimately it helped enable Mr. Barrier’s criminal conduct,” Brown told the Herald Democrat last week.
Magers noted the county isn’t required to have a law library, but if they do, it must remain in the county seat, Sherman. He said the library has evolved from a resource mostly geared for attorneys to more of a resource for individuals representing themselves. He also raised issues of the library’s liability and potential threats to the county’s internal network.
Commissioner Phyllis James noted that people seem to be representing themselves more in court proceedings, so the law library is a valuable resource for these individuals. She raised the question that if the library had longer hours but it was located away from the courthouse then would that be a more beneficial option to residents.
Judge James Fallon told the court that the more hours the library is open is usually better, and he noted the current location provides convenience to residents. He noted that those who are representing themselves typically make use of the library to acquire legal forms, so if they fill out the wrong form, they have the opportunity to go back and get the right one.
The idea was also raised of whether those forms could be made more accessible through alternative means either at another location or online.
Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt noted the law library is also a resource for those confined to the jail. He said there is a legal requirement for these individuals to have access to this information, which is gathered from the library and brought back to the inmates.
“Just because the law library is closed, it doesn’t mean my customers aren’t still trying to get to it,” Watt said.
Magers said he will be having those conversations with Austin College and the city of Sherman soon, and they hope to find a solution by next month. He noted the library could get by with less space and it currently is about 1,100 square feet, but the convenience factor is still to be determined. A part time employee of the DA’s office may operate the library until a permanent solution is found.
While the county does have a policy on the books for uses of its facilities other than their primary purpose, Watt said the current policy is inadequate. He recommended the court form a committee to create a policy for the court to discuss and adopt. He also recommended the court consider implementing a security camera system for the courthouse.
“The scenario we had upstairs a couple weeks ago is not a good way for us to do our business,” Watt said.
Herald Democrat Criminal Justice Editor Jerrie Whiteley contributed to this report.