From: Michael Letwin
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 1:46 PM
To: ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: NYLJ: Courthouse Search for Defense, But Not Prosecution
Councilman’s Shooting Spurs Tighter Courthouse Security
But city’s bag-screening measure does not apply to judges, prosecutors
By Tom Perrotta
New York Law Journal, July 30, 2003
Last week’s shooting death of City Councilman James E. Davis has prompted new security procedures at city courthouses, and defense attorneys say they are being unfairly singled out for scrutiny while prosecutors are given a free pass.
An internal e-mail memo from the public safety department of the Unified Court System, dated last Thursday, the day after the shooting, instructed New York City court officers to x-ray all briefcases and bags belonging to attorneys with court-issued identification cards before allowing them into city courthouses.
The new bag-screening procedure does not apply to prosecutors and judges, however, since they do not have “Secure Pass” IDs. At the Supreme Criminal Courthouse at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan, prosecutors arrive through their own entrance and need only show an office badge.
The discrepancy has angered defense attorneys, who say the Office of Court Administration is once again applying security policies unevenly, just as attorneys complained the agency did after the Sept.
Following the terrorist attacks, OCA required lawyers to walk through metal detectors, but prosecutors and judges, state employees who have gone through criminal background checks, were exempted. The change spurred long lines and loud complaints from the defense bar, eventually leading to the Secure Pass, which costs $25 for two years and requires attorneys to undergo a criminal background check.
Several defense attorneys expressed disbelief that OCA would institute a policy that seemed to question the effectiveness of the Secure Pass program, which has been billed as reliable enough for terrorism prevention.
“Once we have the secure cards there is no reason to target us,” said Edda Ness, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for OCA, said the agency believes the policy is a valid response to the murder of Mr. Davis, 41, who was shot at close range by a political rival during a City Council session. The rival, Othniel Boaz Askew, 31, had been allowed to walk around a metal detector because he and the councilman entered the building together. Mr. Askew was shot dead by a police officer.
“We certainly took note of what happened [at City Hall] and as of now we made a change,” Mr.
Bookstaver said. He would not comment on whether the policy would be extended to prosecutors and judges, but said, “We reserve the right to put any bag through an x-ray machine.”
Russell T. Neufeld, attorney in charge of the Criminal Defense Division at Legal Aid, said there is no reason to think the Secure Pass system is unreliable.
“After 9/11, OCA went through this whole process to figure out how to make the courts more secure,” he said. “Either that process makes sense and they should rely on it, or it doesn’t and they should make everyone go through [the security check]. To single out the defense bar clearly makes no sense and is inequitable.”
Maxwell Gould, an attorney for Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Division, noted the inconvenience and delays the new measure could cause, though he said there have not been any so far.
“If [OCA] would just enforce their current rules and not waive any guests through, that would solve the problem,” he said.
The memo from Chief of Public Safety Matthew O’Reilly detailing the security change also cautioned court officers to examine ID cards and ensure that all guests of court personnel walk through metal detectors.