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Long before the attacks on the World Trade Center, those who worked at New York’s 40 Foley Square and 500 Pearl Street had become accustomed to the heavy security needed for a federal court complex where international terrorism has been placed on trial. But recognizing that everything changed with the events of Sept. 11, Chief Judge John M. Walker Jr. sought to reassure employees when they finally returned in full force on Monday to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “We had a meeting of the entire court staff of the 2nd Circuit and we encouraged them that the environment here is a secure, safe place to work,” Walker said. “They were briefed on the extensive security measures both inside and outside the buildings. It’s safe to say that this courthouse and 500 Pearl Street enjoy the most security of any courthouses in the nation, with the possible exception of the [U.S.] Supreme Court.” In fact, Walker was at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on the morning of the terrorist attacks, attending a meeting of the Judicial Conference of the United States. Because of concern that the Supreme Court was a potential target of the hijackers, the building was evacuated, he said, and the group moved to the administrative offices of the court to assess the situation. Suspensions of air and rail travel left Walker stranded in the capital for a day. Upon his return, the chief judge, like Southern District of New York Chief Judge Michael B. Mukasey, scrambled to find out what was needed to return their courthouses to normal operations, with the lack of phone service and computer connections being the biggest obstacles. Orders concerning extensions of time, filings and emergency operations were issued by both judges. Cell phones were issued to judges and court staff. By Monday, the regular phone service was just beginning to come back, albeit sporadically, in both buildings. But the first part of what Walker called the return of the courts “to the business of dispensing justice” was to ensure that staff members felt as comfortable as possible returning to the federal complex. Walker said he felt it was important to address the full staff “because this courthouse has seen so many terrorist trials and plays an active role in the anti-terrorism battles that are going on — and heightened security is warranted.” The latest trial concluded in May, when four men linked to Osama bin Laden were convicted for their participation in a conspiracy to kill Americans and attack American installations that included the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. For over two years prior to the trial, the section of Pearl Street that runs between 40 Foley Square and 500 Pearl St. was sealed off by dump trucks filled with sand. The trucks were eventually replaced by reinforced steel barriers that are raised and lowered hydraulically. Reinforced steel posts now ring the outside of the courthouses, and the already visible complement of U.S. Marshals and security forces has been increased. Security officers manning metal detectors have increased their vigilance, and those with security passes — allowing them to pass through gates and avoid waiting in line at the metal detectors — must display photographic identification. In addition to the four men convicted in May, several other alleged terrorists are in custody either in the United States or abroad and awaiting trial in lower Manhattan. Including any future indictments obtained by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Mary Jo White, the next several years promise a string of hundreds of pretrial hearings and several trials regarding terrorism at the Pearl Street and Foley Square courthouses. CRISIS COUNSELING With that in mind, the first step for the leadership in the 2nd Circuit and the Southern District was to reassure employees and help them cope with the aftermath of the terror attacks. It began with crisis and trauma counseling, which Chief Judge Walker said was offered to all employees and will be available, as needed, in the future. In the Southern District, group counseling sessions were held as employees began to return to work last week, District Court Executive Clifford P. Kirsch said. The sessions were provided by experienced counselors: a group of probation officers from the Northern District who helped counsel victims and family members following the Oklahoma City bombing. Deputy District Executive Michael McMahon said many employees used the services, which began with “debriefings” in groups of 20 people. Employees were encouraged to speak their minds and share their reactions to the tragedy. Following the debriefings, counselors met with court workers individually. Follow-up counseling will be made available through counselors in the district’s employee assistance program. “A lot of people are feeling angry or sad or anxious,” McMahon said. “They have to get used to being here again and we want them to feel comfortable. We want to get that sense of security back.” The attempt to return to normal business unfolded as promptly as the courthouse infrastructure, particularly communications, could accommodate employees, attorneys and their clients, and even people waiting to be sworn in as U.S. citizens. Potential jurors resumed reporting to the Southern District last week and trials have begun again. At the 2nd Circuit, oral arguments, which had been heard briefly at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, were being held on the 17th floor at 40 Foley Square beginning Friday. Tuesday marked the first day that the clerks’ office at the 2nd Circuit returned to regular hours. Chief Judge Walker said employees in the court system have bounced back from both the tragedy of the terror attack and the disruption it caused. “We have a fine group of employees,” he said. “They have responded very well and have been inspired to work harder and make sure that life here at the court is not going to be deterred or affected.” That renewed sense of determination can be seen in both courthouses, the chief judge said. “If anything, it has heightened our resolve to carry on the business of government effectively, efficiently and promptly,” he said.

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