U.S. Marshal Mark Sloke spoke glowingly about his employees at the Southern District of Alabama Office in downtown Mobile, even the newly acquired black lab named Nina.
It is unusual for a district the size of Mobile’s to count an explosive detection dog among its assets, but as the four-legged agent pranced by on Wednesday morning, Sloke said its one example of why his office was awarded the prize for Best Small District in the country.
“My thoughts on this small district award is it’s an outstanding accomplishment for this district,” he said. “It’s never been done before. This district was started in 1824. Throughout its history, to my knowledge, it has never been awarded best small district of the year, which is a huge accomplishment.”
Mobile’s district is one of 34 small districts and 94 districts overall assigned to a neighboring federal courthouse. The districts are split between small, medium and large, Sloke said.
Sloke specifically mentioned his staff’s work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to help keep court on schedule. While Marshals are known for tracking fugitives, the office in Mobile also coordinated with five jails in its 13-county jurisdiction to provide video-conferencing technology to allow minor hearings to take place virtually.
“Through COVID-19 we were faced with many challenges, like all the offices were throughout the nation, but it was my goal to make sure we do everything in our power to assist our judges and federal clerk to keep those courts running,” he said. “We were able to set up video conferencing in all the jails and our sheriff’s we work with closely were able to accommodate us and help us get those prisoners in front of a camera and do all that was necessary.”
While trials had to be held in person, Sloke said, first appearances and other hearings could be handled remotely.
“We tried to direct them to a jail and they would have video hearing at that facility,” he said. “So, it was a big accomplishment in doing that because we’ve never done that before.”
Staffers also had other virus-related concerns like the possibility of outbreaks in those jails, or prisoners and employees getting sick. Sloke said the office “stayed on top of that” at all times.
“Our employees stepped up during this period and they exceeded expectations and they’re continuing to do so,” he said. “They are highly motivated.”
In addition to dealing with pandemic concerns, Sloke said the office continued its fugitive work, by reducing by 86 percent its number of open warrants last year.
“I’m extremely proud of this district,” he said. “I’m very proud of the leadership and the employees and we’re not done yet. We’re going to continue doing the best we can and I expect we will try again for district of the year in the future or individual awards because I believe in doing the best we can do.”
In addition to acting on federal warrants, Sloke said the agency issues all federal court orders, can seize property and provides security for the courthouse and judges. The majority of the warrants in this area deal with probation violations, he said.
What made the award extra special was that Ronald Davis, U.S. Marshal director, came to the Port City to deliver it, Sloke said. In a statement, Davis called the award “prestigious” and the office a “credit” to the federal service.
“It’s an honor to me to come to the District of Southern Alabama to present this prestigious award,” Davis said in the statement. “The work they have accomplished brings great credit
to the United States Marshals Service and serves as an example for the entire agency.”
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