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Editorials



Monday, March 14, 2005



OUR OPINION


Judiciaries should beef
up security forces


THE ISSUE

Two judges have been the targets of lethal attacks this month.


THE shooting deaths of a Georgia judge and the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago little more than a week apart has stunned judiciaries at both state and federal levels. The deaths cry out for more courthouse security and greater precautions away from the courthouse but should not require draconian measures that threaten the systems' integrity.

The Chicago judge, Joan Lefkow, was believed to have been targeted by a white supremacist who was charged with plotting to kill her. The killer turned out to be an unemployed, delusional electrician whose medical malpractice suit had been dismissed. The man, who committed suicide as he was about to be apprehended, wrote in notes that he intended to murder the judge but found only her husband and mother to be at their home. All three federal judges who have been murdered since 1979 were slain at their homes.

The assailant of Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, a sheriff's deputy and a court reporter in Atlanta on Friday was a man on trial for rape charges. The killer is reported to have grabbed the deputy's gun in a holding area after changing into street clothes, shot her, entered the courtroom and shot Barnes and the stenographer, then fled the building. He later killed a federal customs officer at the officer's home and stole his car before being surrounded and surrendering.

Attorneys criticized the security measures at the Atlanta courthouse, and Hawaii's judiciary security has experienced problems as well. Deputy sheriffs, who provide courtroom security, have been overburdened, partly because of their chore of serving warrants for arrest. A state Senate bill that would increase the bench warrant serving fee by $5 so more deputies could be hired has been ignored in the current session.

Judges sometimes have gone to absurd lengths to assure security in their courtrooms. Hawaii District Judge Matthew Pyun closed his courtroom to the public in December when a jailed defendant was present. Pyun ordered deputy sheriffs to stand "in front of the courtroom facing she spectators in a position to prevent any attack on attorneys or staff." He withdrew the policy of restricting public access to the courtroom last month.

The head of the Judiciary's Driver's License Revocation Office ordered people attending hearings to sign in and show a photo ID last year because the hearings were in a room not equipped with metal detectors used in court buildings. Surveillance and monitoring equipment had been late in being installed in the agency's South King Street office.

High-level federal judges comprising the federal judiciary's policy-making body are scheduled to meet behind closed doors tomorrow to discuss a variety of topics, including security. The Justice Department released a report last year sharply criticizing the U.S. Marshals Service for its handling of protecting judges. It said the agency was using manuals so old that they did not reflect the use of new technologies, including cellphones.






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