Posted September 17, 2013, by Edmund R. Folsom.
Maine Court Screening- Some Lawyers Are More Equal Than Others.
There was a time not that long ago when no security screening took place at courthouse entry points in the Maine State court system. Over the past several years, State court security screening has become fairly routine, to the point that it now takes place most of the time in the courthouses where I practice. But not everyone gets screened- some classes of people enjoy an officially sanctioned privilege from screening– and that has started a small firestorm among certain unprivileged members of the Maine Bar. Oh, how I wish to fan the flames of that firestorm, even in the smallest way.
Back when I was a member of a class that is now privileged from screening (D.A.’s office employees), no security screening took place in the State system. Back then, the lack of security seemed pretty crazy to me. For example, I was an assistant D.A. in the Cumberland County Courthouse when the new addition was built, back around 1991. In the second floor lobby, near the elevators, there was a pattern in the new flooring, surrounded by metal lamp posts. The setup was reminiscent of the part of the Starship Enterprise where the Star Trek crew went to be beamed back and forth between the space ship and nearby planets. The lights had not yet been installed on the metal posts, and wires still protruded from the top. The D.A.’s Office was experimenting with holding a grand jury session in a tiny nearby courtroom. I was waiting to present a case to the grand jury when a guy in biker garb approached. He mistook the Star Trek floor layout and posts with protruding wires for some kind of metal detector setup. I know this because, as he approached and stood facing me about 2′ away, he said something like: “Oh wow, that’s a metal detector… I’ve got a weapon.” At that point, he reached toward his rib cage, under his leather jacket, as I stood and watched. Nearby, a relatively small female Sheriff’s Deputy who was there keeping track of grand jury witnesses immediately got up, pressed her palm against the guy’s chest and pushed him back to toward the wall. A larger Maine State Trooper who was present as a grand jury witness immediately assisted. Between the two of them, they disarmed the guy of a semi-automatic handgun with a full magazine, a large knife sheathed at the small of his back, and a second full magazine held near his ribcage. As it turned out, the guy had a concealed carry permit and meant no harm, but nobody from court security turned up at any point to check out or assist with the situation. They were oblivious to what was going on. This episode brought home for me how easy it would have been for a guy who did mean harm to have entered the courthouse and wiped out every court clerk working on the second floor, and a whole bunch of others to boot. I tried to draw attention to the problem, but nothing ever came of it– alarmist.
I tell the above story to demonstrate that I understand the need for court security, and that I’ve understood an urgent need for it ever since that need was brought home to me more than 20 years ago. It’s a good thing that we ordinarily have courthouse security screening procedures in place these days; at least much of the time, in a number of places. But still, I feel a little bit inferior to be one of the unprivileged, frequently made to stand in line, to empty my pocket of all metallic objects and pass through courthouse metal detectors (although I’ve only had to remove my belt once, and I’ve never been forced to take off my shoes). I’m sure I wouldn’t feel at all inferior if I shared this treatment with everyone else, but the problem is that there are many who belong to officially privileged classes, who are always allowed to just walk on by. The privileged classes include judges (a rarefied form of lawyer who make the rules in this area) and other judicial branch employees, including employees of the court clerk’s offices; D.A.’s, deputy and assistant D.A.’s (another form of lawyer) and others employed by D.A.’s offices; police officers; and, if I am not mistaken, courthouse custodial staff (janitors). Personally, I don’t get that worked up about having to go through courthouse security while my more privileged brethren and sistren, and those in their employ, blow through the fast lane. It suits my cynical sense of humor. But the practice has begun to rankle a significant number of other lawyers who don’t fit into one of the officially privileged classes. It seems that many of these lawyers are offended to be less trusted than janitors, court clerk’s staff, D.A.’s office personnel and police officers not to bring weapons into the courthouse, even though they are held to the standard of “officers of the court,” have sworn an oath to the court, had to pass a background check at the time of bar admission, and are monitored by the Maine Board of Bar Overseers. In the past couple of days I have detected the stirrings of a small backlash against these prejudicial screening processes. The backlash began with an email that Walter McKee, Esq., sent to members of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Walt has been working for some time now for equal treatment for all licensed Maine attorneys, only to have received a response from the judiciary to his recent inquiry about existing practices that goes something like this (I paraphrase): Thank you so much for your concern…noted…now run along and eat some cake, will you. Oh, to be among the privileged.