Judge urges bars to advocate for court security
“The bars need to back us up,” said Judge Soto, explaining that bar associations should tell members not to be upset if they have to go through the magnetometer rather than being waved through with their membership card, and that they should advocate for increased funding for courthouse security.
“Nobody comes to us happy,” Soto explained, meaning that no one is pleased to be in court—and many people arrive angry, and potentially armed or ready to make things physical.
Soto herself once faced an attack in her chambers by an angry defendant who was armed with nothing other than his handcuffs but was nonetheless able to scratch her bench, knock books off their shelves—and break her corrections officer’s arm. She kept hitting her duress button, but nothing happened—because, she later found out, the connection had been cut off at some point.
Anyone with a panic or duress button should check it monthly, she advised.
As for weapons, Soto said that magnetometers simply aren’t enough to catch all of them, and also to be aware that objects other than guns can be used as weapons. In the month of January, in the Miami-Dade courthouse, 1,000 weapons were seized, she said, and these included screwdrivers, hammers, and containers of flammable liquid. Soto noted that this is just what was found, and that she’s very concerned about what else might have gotten through.
Miami-Dade’s contract is for unarmed security, she added, and there are some courthouses in rural areas of Florida that have no security staff at all.
“These are difficult times that we’re facing,” Soto said, “and no one wants to raise taxes.” The judicial branch in general is given a low funding priority, she believes. And the issue is not just with the legislature, she added: Her courthouse’s disaster plan is three years old, and she has requested an update from the police but has been “put on the back burner.”
Aside from the general dislike toward lawyers and judges, and the resulting low priority placed on their safety, Soto pointed to another problem: the tendency to think about security only in reaction to a bad event that has already occurred.
She reiterated her plea for bar associations to speak up on behalf of the judiciary on the subject of gaps in security. Phrase it in terms of helping to keep the public safe when they’re in court, she recommended—and not in terms of protecting lawyers.