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Have Court Security Measures Gone Too Far? Some Lawyers Think So

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 23, 2015 1:59 PM

Courthouse shootings and violent crimes are rare, but they aren't unheard of. From X-rays to pat-downs, many courthouses have installed security procedures to protect against potential violence. Some courts have extended those procedures to lawyers as well, requiring attorneys to remove belts and pass through metal detectors in order to enter the courthouse.

That's a step too far, according to many lawyers. They've begun pushing back against the strict security procedures -- and they're having some success at it, too.

Alabama Lawyers Object to Belt Removal

When lawyers in Birmingham, Alabama, were forced to remove their belts at security, they didn't take it lightly. Anonymous notices were taped throughout the building, urging lawyers to resist the security procedures, according to The Birmingham News. "If we all refuse to comply, we will win," they said.

The lawyer's resistance was based on two main reasons, aside from shear annoyance. First, many argue that lawyers, as officers of the court, should be entitled to the presumption that their belts don't pose a grave security threat. They deserve "common courtesy related to their familiarity and stature," objecting attorneys insist.

Secondly, Birmingham's procedures, like many other courts, applied only to private attorneys. Prosecutors, police, and judges could all pass through the staff entrances, fully belted and unobstructed by security. Treating defense attorneys differently in front of entering jurors and the public could create the appearance of bias and mistrust.

A Free Pass with a Bar ID?

Few would suggest that the court's security concerns are wholly unjustified. In June alone, over 900 weapons were confiscated at the security checkpoints -- though probably none of them were found behind a lawyer's belt.

There have been instances, however, where lawyers have brought weapons to court -- and used them. Twenty-three years ago, Texas defense attorney George Lott snuck a semiautomatic weapon into the Tarrant County Courthouse and opened fire, killing two people. Strict security screening soon followed.

Decades later, Texas attorneys are resisting those measures as well. A new proposal seeks to allow members of the Texas State Bar to bypass courthouse metal detectors and X-ray machines.

While the security changes in Texas are still being debated, Birmingham's objecting lawyers have been successful, at least for the moment. After lawyers complained, the Jefferson County Commission put the practice on hold while it looked into revising the guidelines.

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