Friday, August 24, 2007
Court Facing Security Crisis, Officials Tell Bar Leaders
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court faces a serious crisis due to inadequate funding for security, Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger and the executive officer of the court, John Clarke, told local bar officials yesterday.
“Underfunding … is life threatening and concerns the security of everyone,” Czuleger said during a presentation to the Los Angeles County Bar Association Board of Trustees Wednesday night. Representatives of affiliated bar associations, as well as news media, were invited and in attendance as well.
Czuleger reported that so far this year, there have been 171 cases of judges being threatened, 26 of which were classified as credible threats, including four that resulted in criminal charges.
The court’s budget leaves it $12 million short of what it needs to meet its security needs, Czuleger said, even after an additional infusion of $7 million from the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Czuleger said he plans to put his efforts before the Legislature, because he has exhausted his options with the AOC. According to funding guidelines, the 600-plus judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court receives the same funding as courts with only 60 judges, he explained.
Clarke presented a seven-minute video montage highlighting some of the dangers of a security deficient courtroom. “People’s conception of security is different from what actually goes on behind the scenes,” he said.
The video was produced as a way to effectively communicate with the Legislature, Clarke explained, because oral communication has yet to show results.
The video highlighted a number of statistics—580,000 inmates are transferred between the jails and the courthouses annually, more than 258,000 weapons were seized in courthouses last year, and there are 150,000 gang members in Los Angeles County.
The narrator also noted that the court’s jurisdiction includes Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood, bringing before it a number of problems unique to cases involving celebrity defendants.
Clarke noted that in the Compton courthouse, it is not uncommon to find witnesses, victims, and the public crowding the hallway.
This year alone, in just one of the county’s courthouses, he said, a judicial officer has been threatened, a building has been vandalized, a custodial officer was battered, there was a bomb threat, a witness and victim were intimidated, two deputies were injured in an altercation, and a juvenile was sodomized while in custody.
Czuleger said the court came “that close” to an incident similar to the 2005 Atlanta courthouse tragedy—in which Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, a deputy, and a court reporter were shot and killed by a rape suspect in open court—when an inmate in Compton almost obtained access to a 9 millimeter gun with 14 rounds.
Similar incidents are a possibility if security issues are not addressed, the presiding judge said, because the court will lose some 130 of its assigned sheriff’s deputies if the $12 million dollar gap is not filled.
Czuleger urged the bar leaders to assist the court by offering ideas as to how to influence the Legislature with regard to the funding issues.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company