Security for Courthouses, Courtrooms, and Judges
Our second theme that we will be exploring in this and the following issue of The Judges’ Journal is security, not only for us as individuals but also for the institutions we serve and for those who work alongside us. Probably every reader of The Judges’ Journal has personal stories about the dangers inherent in our work and evolving notions of security. Not long after I began practice as an assistant prosecutor around 1980, a senior colleague tried an ugly child molestation case. When the jury returned a verdict of guilty, the defendant drew a pistol he had hidden in his pocket and shot himself in the head. It was obvious to all of us that he could have taken with him the judge, some jurors, the prosecutor, his own attorney, a bailiff, or court spectators. Metal detectors were installed the next week. In 1983, I began work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. On my first day at work, I strolled into the courthouse/post office, up the stairs, into the prosecutor’s office, and sat down at my desk. When I left federal practice a decade later, I turned in the seven keys and magnetic cards it now took to get from the street into the parking lot, into the building, into the elevator, past security, into the suite, and into my individual office.
We all know that security is not a new issue, and we’ve learned the hard way that judges and courts are not immune from violence. Yet even with the increased steps taken to provide and improve security over the last few decades, risks remain. As a result, The Judges’ Journal is pleased to be presenting timely articles that deal specifically with the dangers we face and the steps we can take to ameliorate those threats. You will see that many of these proposals are inexpensive applications of common sense.
Safety is one area in which judges can make sure things happen. If you tell the clerk of your court and the sheriff of your county (or whoever provides your bailiffs and courthouse security) that you would like for them to join you in person for a tour of the facilities with an eye toward reducing threats, they will almost certainly come along, make observations and suggestions, and, most importantly, do their level best to address problems. After all, they are there to serve the court and you are the court embodied. In addition, county commissioners, city council members, and others who use the court facilities while carrying out their official duties might join in because they have security needs as well.
The two themes of this issue come together as we all consider our past, what we have learned from that past, and what we have yet to accomplish. Applying these lessons to the future, we can make our lives and courts safer as we work together more effectively to improve our work as judges.