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New devices expected to help lawyers pass through courthouse security faster

By Jessica Priest
Sept. 28, 2012 at 4:28 a.m.
Updated Sept. 29, 2012 at 4:29 a.m.


COURTHOUSE SECURITIES IN AREA COUNTIES

Here's how other sheriff's departments secure their courthouse:

Montgomery County - Attorneys can skip going through one of its five metal detectors by purchasing a picture ID and renewing it annually.

Jefferson County - Lawyers since 2008 have been able to bypass security by shelling out $50 for a badge available online or through the local bar.

Wharton County - Those who are known to the security detail are allowed to skip unless there is a high-profile case.

Calhoun County - No one avoids the metal detector.

Source: Wharton County Jail Administrator Raymond Jansky, Jefferson County, Calhoun County Sheriff B.B. Browning and Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Stephen Johnson.

The Victoria County Sheriff's Office is hoping two newly-installed metal detectors will ease what some call a bottle neck at the courthouse during jury days.

They've already been calibrated, and, starting sometime next week, a sign will be hung over one of the devices to grant attorneys toting their bar card and county employees exclusive access.

The other metal detector will be designated for visitors.

It's an estimated $30,000 project that's been in the works for at least five years, Sheriff Michael T. O'Connor said.

Chief Deputy Terry Simons said the original plan to have the baggage claim-like device situated in the middle of the detectors was scrapped after a nearby elevator kept setting them off. They're now standing to the left.

This comes about two months after the Victoria County Bar Association sent a letter to County Judge Don Pozzi and O'Connor asking that its members be allowed to bypass security checkpoints altogether, an act they believe may reduce fees attorneys representing the indigent rack up while standing in what some describe as a 30-minute long line.

"The only thing that they get is expedited to the front of the line," Simons said.

"And they should have been all along," O'Connor added, as the courthouse' business can't be conducted without them.

Attorneys and employees, like the public, will still be required to remove jewelry, steel-toed boots and other things that make the metal detectors chirp in alarm.

Local civil attorney Rex Easley said although he's happy the sheriff has tried to alleviate the problem, the new measures do not go far enough.

He's practiced in Victoria for about 31 years and is now contemplating trading in his metal watch for a plastic one to make the process smoother.

Rex Easley visits the courthouse about three times a week and has been late for a trial before. That's why he believes attorneys should circumvent the screenings.

"It's ridiculous that you have to alter your wardrobe," he said. "It's not that we should be treated special. It's just that that's our workplace, and we're professionals ... Most victims of courthouse violence are attorneys."

Bar Association treasurer Luther Easley agreed. He said he's hopeful the group, which meets with the sheriff on Monday, will work out a compromise.

"We're not asking for anything that hasn't been given in other communities," he said.

O'Connor said he's open to suggestions so long as they don't compromise anyone's safety.

Luther Easley also is an assistant district attorney not currently scrutinized by bailiffs as he enters each day.

"I feel guilty inside walking past the line," he said of one particular rainy day. "Jury duty is painful enough without having to get soaked to the bone."

The Bar Association also will be on the Oct. 8 County Commissioners Court meeting agenda, said Luther Easley.

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