In an annual speech Tuesday before a joint session of the Legislature, Chief Justice Louis Lavorato warned lawmakers that the security at many courthouses needs to be upgraded, but most rural counties don't have the needed resources.

"Let's face it, most counties outside of Iowa's urban centers do not have the financial resources to install and staff sophisticated security equipment, retrofit old courthouses or provide deputies around the clock," Lavorato said. "This is of paramount importance. Let's act before a tragedy occurs in Iowa."

Magistrate and district judges using the Appanoose Courthouse seem in agreement that tighter security measures need to be implemented, but stop short of such actions as metal detectors.

“It’s not something I think about on a day-to-day basis,” said District Court Judge Dan Wilson, who presides in his home courthouse in Appanoose County as well as nine others in southeast Iowa.

Occasionally, he added, there are some cases that will make him realize how very little security there is at the courthouses.

Law enforcement agencies in the counties are always cooperative in providing officers at the higher risk cases, said Wilson. He noted a uniform presence helps to deter inappropriate conduct, rather than just reacting after something has happened — which by then is usually too late.

It’s the age old trade-off,” Wilson acknowledged, between security and the openness society wants and expects.

Magistrate Bob Pontious can see several sides of the problem, having spent years in law enforcement before becoming an Appanoose County supervisor — and then resigning to become a magistrate judge.

“We have concerns that need addressed,” Pontious admitted, but said he didn’t feel a metal detector was an answer.

Still, it is impossible to know when extra security is needed. You never know when a problem person can walk through the door, he said.

One issue he has noted since becoming a judge last year is when the county offices in he Courthouse are closed for certain holidays and his court is open. At those times, said Pontious, the Courthouse is empty.

Magistrate Julie DeVries said she sometimes worries about security, but realizes such things as metal detectors are too costly. DeVries can call for a deputy sheriff if she feels a case warrants the extra security, and they can use a hand-held metal detector.

Sheriff Gary Anderson said he and County Attorney Robert Bozwell have been looking into the security at the Courthouse.

A full-time officer for the courts and metal detectors are not feasible because of the costs, said Anderson. His office is looking more closely at the court calenders for cases that might require the presence of a deputy. These types of proceedings aren’t always criminal. Anything from parental termination hearings to civil cases involving large sums of money can trigger dangerous emotional reactions.

They are also looking at monitoring devices for some doors, as well as securing private offices at the Courthouse.

But what ever measures are taken, Anderson concluded, they do not want to see anything that would cut off the Courthouse’s accessibility to the public.

This Week's Circulars