Good Life

11 Questions With Ken Fogleman: Tipstaff works for the pleasure of the court

Ken Fogleman is a tipstaff for the Centre County and helps with the jurors during trials in the courthouse March 26, 2015.
Ken Fogleman is a tipstaff for the Centre County and helps with the jurors during trials in the courthouse March 26, 2015. CDT photo

Ken Fogleman has jury duty almost a dozen times a year — but for him its all in a day’s work.

As a tipstaff at the Centre County Court of Common Pleas in the 49th Judicial District, the Houserville resident helps to ensure that jurors follow proper courtroom procedure during criminal and civil trials. Fogleman said that some people refer to them as bailiffs without a gun.

There are currently eight tipstaves in service at the courthouse — four men and four women — and one of each is assigned to every trial. Together, they help facilitate everything from bathroom breaks to communication between the judge and jury.

As far as post-retirement gigs go, Fogleman, a former physical education teacher in the State College Area School District, could do worse.

Q: How did you become a tipstaff?

A: A friend from my coffee club, Frank Webster, mentioned that a tipstaff position was opening and he thought I’d be a good fit for the position. I had to be approved by the judges. Frank served for about 15 years and retired shortly after he trained me.

Q: How long have you been a tipstaff?

A: I’ve been a tipstaff for about three years.

Q: What drew you to the position as a second career?

A: It was hardly a second career since the job is very part time. I’d say that talking with Frank over coffee about trials that were completed ... piqued my interest about the position.

Q: What were you doing before?

A: I retired from the State College Area School District as an elementary physical education teacher after 35 years of service. (Wife) Nancy and I do a lot of volunteer and charity work to keep us busy. Being a tipstaff is the only paying job I’ve had since retirement.

Q: Did you have to undergo any training prior to beginning work?

A: It was on-the-job training from Frank. He was the most senior male tipstaff and he took me under his wing. I served with him for jury selection and then for a criminal trial. They are different procedures. After that I was pretty much on my own, but Frank trained me well so it was an easy entry. Also the lady tipstaff I worked with was experienced, so she helped me as needed.

Q: How many days a week do you work?

A: You work at the pleasure of the court. After the number of cases going to trial is determined the secretary for the court administration assigns the tipstaves, one woman and one man per trial. You are assigned to about a dozen trials a year. However, many cases are settled before trial starts so you don’t go to work those times. You average about eight cases per year going to trial, so that makes this job very part-time.

Q: What are your major responsibilities inside the courtroom?

A: We make sure hats are off in the courtroom. Cell phones must be off during the trial. They may be used during breaks or lunch. Phones are taken during deliberation. Smokers may go outside on their own during breaks; on “big” cases, one of us has to accompany them. On trials of more than one day, jurors may take notes. We distribute and collect the notebooks. ... We can only answer general questions for the jurors. Other questions for the judge must be written by the jury foreman. They knock on the door and hand it to us and then we deliver it to the judge. If the judge decides not to respond in writing they will have us bring the jury to the courtroom. They will also call the attornies and clients back and then explain the question to all.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: Getting to meet new people, and I’ve had many of my former students serve so it’s good to see them again and find out where their life’s path has taken them. It’s part of our job to make them comfortable and feel at ease. Some are apprehensive while others are eager and excited to serve. Most jurors interact on breaks while a few may be more reticent and just observe. Of course we must make sure they don’t discuss the trial at all until deliberation.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment on the job?

A: Without a doubt, the Sandusky trial. I served the first three days on that one. It was very emotional. Of course the tipstaff must not show their emotions by facial expressions or body language lest it would possibly influence a juror.

Q: Has anything surprised you about the judicial process?

A: I’ve not really been surprised about our judicial process since I know it works. However, I’m so pleased with our juries. They take their job seriously and really do a conscientious job of carrying out their duties and making tough decisions. It would be very rare that I didn’t agree with the verdict. Of course that would be kept to myself and never shared with a juror if I happened to bump into one somewhere in the future.

Q: Has becoming part of the legal system changed your perspective on it at all?

A: Now that I’ve been a part of real trials I know that TV shows and the various judge shows are mostly entertainment although sometimes actual trials are televised. I’m very impressed that our judges have the ability to make quick and fair rulings. They have a lot of knowledge. They are the referees and must remain impartial at all times. I thoroughly enjoy the job and it’s a great to help the system with our duties and to help keep things going smoothly.