Double Standards at the Courthouse Door
There’s a new security regime in the Connecticut federal courts, so let me gripe about it a bit: You see, lawyers are now required not just to pass through metal detectors, place their briefcases on conveyor belts scanning for bombs and some such, remove their computers from briefcases, and empty their pockets. All that was standard fare. Now lawyers are required to take off their belts as well.
“What’s up with the new security requirements?” I asked a court security officer as I pulled the belt from pants.
“New orders from up top.”
“Turns out someone complained that the lawyers we’re being searched the same as everyone else.”
A vision of the complainant formed in my mind’s eye: No doubt someone summoned to court for jury service, or as a witness. They’re not used to standing in line to enter a building. They empty their pockets. Perhaps they place a bag on the conveyor belt. Their cell phone is confiscated. They pass through the metal detector, and it beeps. A security officer requires them to go through the metal detector all over again. Now they’re told to remove their belt.
The visitor is fuming at the injustice of it all. He sees another person go through without as much fuss. When he complains about the double standard, he is told the other person is a lawyer.
Damn, lawyers, the man fumes. Why do they get special privileges? The man writes a letter to complain to the chief clerk about double standards. So the clerk acts. No more privileges for lawyers. Treat everyone the same.
Except the rule is not applied in an even-handed manner. Cops are still waved through security with a wink and a nod. Why? They are law enforcement, and, I suppose, therefore regarded as trustworthy. It turns out prosecutors are also given dispensation. The day I learned of the new security regime, I asked a federal prosecutor whether he’d been put through his paces. “No,” he blushed.
Here’s a newsflash to the pencil-pushing bureaucrat who decided to crack down on defense lawyers, but to leave prosecutors and cops alone: Criminal defense lawyers are law enforcement officers, too. In fact, assuring that the law is obeyed in some of life’s most difficult situations is a criminal defense lawyer’s job: We hold the Government to its requirement to obey the law. So why are criminal defense lawyers treated differently than prosecutors and cops at courthouse security checkpoints?
There is really no good reason at all.
I’ve long since gotten used to security checks at courthouses. Frankly, I don’t mind them at all. The sorts of passions that bring people to court can be deadly. I am glad the court has folks watching the doors, and, therefore, my back. Going through these security checks everyday has made be a compliant flyer, too. Going to court is sort of like going to the airport, with this difference: You don’t yet have to remove your shoes to enter a courthouse. Not yet, anyhow.
I do mind living with the consequences of stupid decisions by pettifogging bureaucrats. Whoever cooked up the new security requirements has the twisted genius of a circus public relations man: Anything to please the folks purchasing the peanuts being tossed into the ring. Anything -- no matter how stupid.
So here’s a memo to the geniuses running the federal courts: How about one standard for all the professionals entering the courts? There are crooked cops and crazy prosecutors out there, too, you know. And a criminal defense lawyer representing the accused is not guilty by association.
Put this memo right there in the same file as the note from the cranky citizen complaining about double standards. And do something about it. Or would you rather just cozy up to cops and prosecutors and treat criminal defense lawyers like criminals? And you private lawyers out there: Give a copy of the column to the folks at the door every time you enter the building -- but take your belt off first.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.