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State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille has asked the General Assembly to spend $5.1 million to shore up security at county courthouses and district justice offices statewide. Castille, in testimony last week before the Appropriations committees of the state House of Representatives and Senate in Harrisburg, warned of potential threats to judges’ safety and said legislators needed to act immediately. Security has been an ongoing concern for judges and court staff working at City Hall in Center City where the building’s public entrances are not monitored and members of the public can come and go as they please. Castille reported that 52 percent of Pennsylvania judges and district justices said in surveys that in one year they had been threatened in some manner. About 1 percent had been physically assaulted in that time, Castille said. “Neither judges nor others present in our courts should become victims in the courthouse,” Castille told the legislators. Castille asked that the General Assembly allocate $5.1 million for security initiatives such as staff training and security equipment in addition to money for other projects. “One needs only walk through the Capitol complex, where cameras scan nearly every public space, and staff and machines deter potential risks to public safety, to recognize today’s challenges to institutional security and organizational preparedness,” said Castille, who was joined by Justice Thomas G. Saylor, Superior Court Judge Correale F. Stevens, Commonwealth Court President Judge James Gardner Colins and other court representatives. A member of the judiciary outlines its proposed budget before the Legislature each year. The majority of the judiciary’s budget goes toward paying the salaries of court staff and the staff of independent judicial agencies such as the Board of Judicial Conduct. The overall budget proposed by the judiciary totaled $310 million for the 2004-05 fiscal year, said Art Heinz, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. The budget for the judiciary proposed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell totaled $11 million less – about $299 million. The Legislature finalizes budget decisions by July when the new fiscal year begins. The greatest line-item gap between the judiciary’s and Rendell’s preliminary budgets is the $5.1 million slated for security. Rendell’s budget did not specifically allocate money for court security, but Heinz said this was because the judiciary was still formulating its security initiative when it gave its initial budget numbers to the governor’s office. It hadn’t mentioned a need for such funding, Heinz said. Justice Sandra Schultz Newman heads the Judicial Council subcommittee on security — a position she’s held since the council began studying the issue in 1999. Newman said the immediate goal of the project is to equip all state courthouses with magnetometers and district justice offices with security cameras. The district offices in particular are sometimes more isolated than larger midtown courthouses and, therefore, less secure. Newman mentioned security breaches in state courthouses over the last couple of years, including a court interpreter who was attacked by a witness, a common pleas judge who was beaten into a coma, and a bomb that was taken into the Schuylkill County Courthouse. “It’s very basic the things we’re doing now,” said Newman, who estimated that at least half of Pennsylvania county courthouses are without proper security. Once basic security measures are in place, the security committee will focus on more complex security measures like those that prepare for potential bioterrorism attacks, Newman said. President Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court sits on Newman’s security committee. She said she wasn’t surprised by the number of threats to personal safety that judges reported. It’s not unusual for Philadelphia judges to be concerned about their personal safety, she said. “As you know, City Hall has absolutely no security for judges,” Massiah-Jackson said. City Hall houses court administration offices, some courtrooms, the City Council members’ offices and chambers, and other city offices. There are no metal detectors at the building’s public entrances, although detectors were recently installed outside the City Council’s chambers. The Family Court and Criminal Justice Center buildings do have security at public entrances, which are policed by the sheriff’s office. Philadelphia court administrators have said they’d like to see more security in City Hall, but they do not have the same authority over security there as they do in buildings where a branch of the First Judicial District is a chief tenant. The mayor budgeted $7 million for improving security in City Hall a couple of years ago. “We’ve had meetings and discussions with representatives of the city, and they’re working on it,” Massiah-Jackson said. A spokeswoman at Mayor John F. Street’s office said that the City Hall security project is still under way. The plan is to install video surveillance throughout the building and put grating on basement doors and window entrances. Portable metal detectors will be set up at the northeast entrance to the building and the number of public entrances will be limited. At the hearing last week, Castille also asked the Legislature to add $226,000 in funding for expanding the judicial education program and $155,000 for the creation of an intergovernmental panel dedicated to eliminating gender and racial bias in Pennsylvania government. While coordinating judicial education has largely been a task judges volunteered for on their own time, the money Castille requested would be used to establish a more systemic approach to education training by developing a formal continuing education curriculum. The intergovernmental panel on race and gender is a follow-up to a report published by the Supreme Court Committee on “Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System,” which recommended reforming the judicial system to make it more “fair.” The “gender, racial, ethnic fairness commission” would be organized under the wing of the state Judicial Council, Castille said.

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