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A judge who handles Social Security hearings and appeals in the William P. Cotter Federal Building in downtown Hartford, Conn., has been fined after her pistol was confiscated during an unannounced security check last month. Government officials confirmed that the Dec. 9 incident involved Administrative Law Judge Joyce Krutick Craig, who works in room 331 at the federal building on High Street. Craig did not return repeated telephone messages left by The Connecticut Law Tribune. In the past, Craig and other federal employees working in the building were allowed to enter without passing through the single metal detector at the northeast entryway. But in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11, stricter security measures have been imposed. One is the mandatory metal screening of everyone entering the building, on random, unannounced days. According to a Hartford official with the General Services Administration, Craig was detected during one such screening last month, and was promptly relieved of her sidearm. “I think they told her never to do it again,” said Kevin F. McGill, who oversees the Cotter building from his offices in the Abraham Ribicoff Federal Building on Main Street. Felipe Amaro, who heads Office of Federal Protective Services (FPS) in Hartford, referred inquiries to the Office of Homeland Security in Boston. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that a fine was imposed against Craig for failure to obey the posted security warnings, which forbid any type of weapons or explosives in federal buildings. Under title 18, section 930 of the United States Code, anyone who tries to get into a federal building with a weapon can get up to a year in jail, and also a fine. If it’s a federal court building, the maximum punishment is up to two years in jail. There are, however, exceptions for certain law enforcement officials. The law specifically doesn’t apply to “the lawful performance of official duties by an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof, who is authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of law.” According to McGill, rules vary from courthouse to courthouse on whether anyone besides U.S. marshals may carry weapons in federal courthouses. Depending on the policy of the presiding judge, “sometimes even FBI and DEA officers aren’t allowed to bring their weapons in,” and must unload and check them with court security officers, he said. Russell Sunni, the supervisory marshal in Hartford, said federal law enforcement agents are permitted to carry their weapons into the portion of the Ribicoff building that is federal offices, but not through the court side of the building, or into courtrooms. According to Sunni and McGill, even a state permit to carry a concealed weapon does not authorize anyone to bring weapons into a federal building. Prominent blue and white signs posted at eye level at the entrance of the William P. Cotter Federal Building warn that it is a federal offense to bring any type of weapon into the facility. Two of four Social Security lawyers interviewed for this article said they would prefer that judges did not carry firearms; the other two said they had no opinion. “I would assume that, if they’re a judge, they’ve had some [handgun] training — and also that they’d have a cool head,” said one of the lawyers. But as a general rule, said another, “I’d just as soon they didn’t have guns.” By press time, the FPS Region I office in Boston did not respond to The Law Tribune‘s Freedom of Information request for Craig’s incident report. The disarming of Judge Craig occurred before the current increase of the nation’s security alert status to orange. On a recent afternoon, the lone entrance of the Cotter building had six armed guards surrounding a single metal detector, with another guard seated at a reception desk a few steps away in the cavernous central hall, where the public can find a wide array of federal tax forms. The building has fortress-like security features, with an electronically controlled garage door of heavy steel, which only opens for authorized personnel. Federal authorities “tell us to make it safe, and also to make it look inviting to the public,” said McGill, noting that the two goals often conflict. In the late 1980s, massive concrete security barriers were placed between Main Street and the Abraham Ribicoff Federal Building on Main Street, which houses Hartford’s federal courthouse, during the trials stemming from the Los Macheteros armored car heist. When the huge blocks proved too big to remove, it was McGill’s idea to disguise them as planter boxes for greenery. According to three Hartford County lawyers who have conducted Social Security disability appeals — some of them before Judge Craig — the proceedings can be emotional for claimants. But, unlike regular court matters, there is no clash of warring adversaries, the lawyers said. Thus, there is no “prosecutor” for the Social Security Administration. The judge can take the initiative with direct questions, but it’s extremely rare for a judge to rule from the bench, especially to deny benefits. Therefore, claimants would seldom hear distressing news directly from a judge at the hearing. Compared to court proceedings, the hearings are private and intimate, practitioners say. The public cannot attend, so the room only contains the judge, the claimant, the claimant’s lawyer, a court reporter and possibly a translator or an expert medical or employment skills expert.

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