Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Funds inadequate for security at many courts, officials warn

ATLANTA - The fatal shooting of a judge and court reporter yesterday in a Georgia courtroom set off warnings in courts across the country, prompting spirited discussions among judges and law enforcement officers over improving courthouse safety.

Judges said the killing of Judge Rowland Barnes of Fulton County Superior Court highlights long-held security concerns. Appropriations for security are often inadequate, judges and law enforcement officials said, and many local courts do not have basic equipment like X-ray machines and metal detectors.

The killing was all the more startling, the judges said, occurring less than two weeks after the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago were killed in the judge's house, apparently by an unsuccessful litigant.

"There's a general perception among judges that there are more threats," said Judge Lawrence Piersol of U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, S.D., president of the Federal Judges Association. "Many judges feel this way. Once this is analyzed, there may be some different security procedures initialized."

Federal Bar Association President Thomas Schuck said he expects judicial security to take center stage at Wednesday's meeting of the Judicial Conference, a high-level body headed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Mr. Schuck, a Cincinnati attorney, wrote President Bush this week asking him "immediately to assess and assure that funding for security requirements is adequate and that all prudent arrangements for the protection of judicial personnel, their families, and our public courthouses have been made."

The head of the conference's committee on security and facilities, federal appeals Judge Jane R. Roth, said her committee has spent years lobbying for more money for the U.S. Marshals Service to increase courthouse security staff.

In Toledo, security officials said metal detectors and X-ray machines are used to screen people entering the U.S. District and Lucas County Common Pleas courthouses, limiting the potential for a gun to get into the hands of defendants.

Mark Lair, director of security for the Lucas County courthouse, said deputies are extra cautious at trials when defendants are not handcuffed and shackled because of the presence of a jury, but the potential of a defendant getting a gun is always a concern.

"We have procedures in place in those circumstances. The court deputies are on high alert at those times. We watch everything very closely," he said.

Steve Miller, supervisor of the U.S. Marshal's office, which provides security for the federal district Courthouse on Spielbusch Avenue, said similar precautions are taken in the courtrooms.

Mr. Miller said deputies are trained on what to do if a defendant attempts to grab a weapon.

Across the nation, security is much spottier in local courts than in federal courts, said Lee Sinclair, a judge in Canton, Ohio, who teaches a course on court security at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. Judge Sinclair, who presides at the Stark County Common Pleas Court, which has security equipment, said half the nation's state courts lacked the proper equipment.

"Judges have come up to me and said, 'I can't believe how lucky you are,'" he said, referring to the equipment. "It's all a budgetary problem. You have to prioritize. So you do as best you can. Unfortunately, we don't prioritize" well.

In Georgia, with courthouses spread throughout more than 150 counties, spending for court security has been a problem, said Terry Norris, executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association. A sheriff in Washington County told Mr. Norris that a courthouse there lacked security equipment.

There are "a lot of rural counties and old courthouses," Mr. Norris said. "In some of these counties, there's no revenue at all. It's not seen as a priority. They are trying to build a bridge or a road."

Those who enter Chicago's federal courthouse must show IDs, pass through metal detectors, and allow packages to be X-rayed. Explosives-sniffing dogs are on patrol and all mail is inspected. Outside the courthouse, however, judges are usually on their own.

Marshals furnish round-the-clock protection to judges and federal prosecutors when they find a threat serious enough to warrant it. The Marshals Service said it managed 39 such protective details in 2004.

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