Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Chart: Proposed Security / Funding Standards Inadequate funding and patchy standards have left many of the state’s 451 court facilities vulnerable to the kind of courthouse violence that exploded in Atlanta last month, court officials say. Screening for weapons at courthouse entrances in Los Angeles County last year yielded four guns, 78,000 knives, 30,000 scissors, 19,000 razors, 11,000 sets of handcuffs and more than 8,000 mace containers, said Rich Martinez, chief of the L.A. County sheriff’s court services division. Yet 22 of the state’s court facilities don’t check for weapons at all, and checks are spotty at hundreds of other sites. Last month, Chief Justice Ronald George told legislators that two-thirds of the state’s courthouses “lack adequate security.” George says more money and new facilities are needed. But last year legislators sliced $22 million from the court’s security budget and told court officials to take stock of the security they already have. On Thursday, court officials will hear testimony on how budget cuts have compromised security. And on Friday, the Judicial Council will vote on a series of recommendations, a year in the making, aimed at establishing uniform statewide standards for security spending. The recommendations come from a 16-member task force of judges, sheriff personnel and Administrative Office of the Courts representatives. Both George and Mike Roddy, the AOC regional director overseeing the project, say guidelines for weapons screening, prisoner transport and courtroom personnel will help local court administrators and sheriffs devise effective security budgets. But the state won’t tell counties how to spend the money. “How they choose to do that is a local decision,” said Roddy. “We certainly want to set guidelines, but without micromanaging,” said George. The decisions aren’t easy. Sheriff’s deputies provide better security, everyone agrees, but cost twice as much as unarmed court attendants. Experts know that civil and family law disputes often trigger violence. But the killings in Atlanta have experts worrying that criminal courts are a weak link in the chain of custody. Many state courthouses “have not taken into account the safe movement of inmates,” said Clifford Priest, a corporal with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office and a member of the AOC security working group. “We’re dealing with criminals who are very smart and very calculating, and if they want to find a way out, the courts are probably where they’re going to find it.” According to Roddy, state money for trial court security is currently allotted based on what each county spent at the time of trial court unification in 1997, adjusted for salary and benefit increases. That means security — or funding for it — is better in some counties than others. “We wanted to know, what is the current state of affairs?” said Roddy. “We never had a statewide view or perspective of what was happening and then what it will take to do the job.” It takes a lot. According to figures compiled by the AOC, the state budgeted approximately $373 million for court security this fiscal year — about 16 percent of the total $2.35 billion trial court budget. Nine percent of that amount — $35.4 million — is used for perimeter weapons screening. Alpine County, the least populated in the state, has $11,000 budgeted for court security. Los Angeles County, the most populous, will spend $127 million this fiscal year. Court administrators and law enforcement officials around the state say that’s not enough money to keep up with a system of largely dilapidated buildings increasingly vulnerable to violence. AOC officials are hoping that some of the structural issues contributing to poor security will be dealt with by the passage of a $6 billion court bond that court leaders hope to have on the ballot in 2006. That money could pay for additional holding cells, private hallways and secure entrances needed to handle a burgeoning population of increasingly violent criminals. In some courthouses around the state, inadequate hall and elevator space means that gang members parade past spectators and witnesses. Courthouses in some cities, including Salinas and Berkeley, have no weapons screening system at the courthouse doors. In San Joaquin County, administrators have cut expenses by hiring private security for weapons screening at the Stockton courthouse. At other county courthouses, sheriff’s deputies still handle the chore. “Frankly, I would like to have armed people at the [Stockton courthouse] door,” said Rosa Junquiero, San Joaquin County’s court executive. “That’s our first line of defense. “If you’re going to catch anyone, it’s going to be there, and I think the deputy sheriffs get more respect because they are armed,” Junquiero added. Statewide, security costs on average have increased about 7 percent annually, according to the AOC, but courts were asked to cut $22 million from the security budget last year. In response, some counties trimmed bailiff positions. Alameda now uses less expensive unarmed “court attendants” to staff family law courts. Court administrators in other counties say pulling armed deputies from the volatile family law departments is asking for trouble. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Solano County Superior Court Executive Charles Ramey. “It’s the most dangerous place in the courthouse.” James Williams, commander of countywide deputy sheriff services for Alameda County, says the sheriff and the courts want to return armed deputies to family court. So does the Police Officers Research Association of California, which advocates for law enforcement officers. “We strongly feel all positions funded by the courts should be deputy sheriffs,” said San Diego’s Priest, the PORAC representative on the AOC working group. “We really haven’t had that much of a problem [in the past] because we have qualified personnel. That’s what we’re trying to protect,” said Priest. But the question of who should stand guard over the state’s courthouses isn’t likely to get much air time at the Judicial Council meeting this week. Court officials say they can’t dictate that counties rely on sworn deputies. Priest said that PORAC made its views known to the working group, but won’t be opposing the group’s recommendations to the Judicial Council. “I don’t think that now is the time to complain about it.” Under the Superior Court Law Enforcement Act of 2002, authored by state Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove, each county’s sheriff or marshal and presiding judge is supposed to develop an annual security plan, with “actual court security allocations subject to the approval of the Judicial Council.” But law enforcement officials say loopholes in the 2002 law allow the state to avoid paying some of the security costs. “We call it the naked deputy syndrome,” said Assistant Orange County Sheriff Doug Storm, another working group member. “They pay the county for the body, but they don’t pay the county for the uniforms, the guns, the training, the computers — any of the support stuff.” Fully sworn, armed deputies can cost as much as $114,000 in salary and benefits in Alameda County, and about half as much in rural Tuolumne County. Court officials and sheriff’s deputies say unarmed attendants cost about half of what sworn deputies make in a given county. Generally, the sheriffs will not allow security personnel who are not peace officers to carry arms in courthouses. “Personnel costs are a real issue,” said Solano’s Ramey, adding that salary and benefit increases in his county will amount to $600,000 next year “with no increase in service.” He noted that trial courts have the added problem of inheriting salary structures negotiated between the county and the sheriff’s department. “The courts are not at the bargaining table,” said Ramey, who speaks highly of the deputies who serve the Solano County courts. “As a result, the court receives just a pass-through of costs.” San Diego’s Priest, like other law enforcement officials, says the courts shouldn’t put the squeeze on sheriff’s deputies. “I think the biggest danger in the courts is the lack of manpower,” said Priest. “If they keep cutting deputies, I think it’s going to get worse.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.