Resolution on Courthouse Security
This resolution was adopted by the Board of Directors of the New York County Lawyers’ Association at its regular meeting on December 10, 2001.
The Criminal Justice Section of the New York County Lawyers’ Association acknowledges that prudent security measures are essential in order to safeguard the public, our public institutions and our members. However, we also believe that any enhancement of security must be effectuated in a manner that harmonizes reasonable security concerns with our profession’s fundamental commitment to the fair administration of justice and equality before the law.
We believe that the recent modifications of courthouse security and the selective implementation of that plan have eroded our profession’s commitment to those principles.
The directive to require attorneys to undergo personal searches in order to gain access to all court facilities, while exempting other court personnel, demeans our profession and erodes public confidence in the integrity of our judicial system.
Attorneys in good standing are licensed professionals and officers of the court, whether their home offices lie within or outside the walls of the court building. Attorneys have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, have already been subjected to rigorous screening attendant to bar admission, and are subject to ethical and disciplinary oversight on a continuous basis. Attorneys, therefore, simply cannot be viewed as an inherently suspect category of court personnel.
Moreover, subjecting only some attorneys to the intrusive security screening at the door of the courthouse in plain view of sworn jurors while their government adversaries and even the courtroom personnel bypass the monitors sends a devastating message to the public – one that profoundly undermines at least the appearance of equality before the law, perhaps even with Constitutional implications for some categories of litigants.
If it is determined that people who gain access to court facilities may be deliberately or inadvertently carrying instruments of terrorism, then everyone should be subjected to the same screening procedures. Either government employees such as court interpreters, clerks, court reporters, administrative staff, legal interns, thousands of assistant district attorneys and additional other personnel affiliated with the buildings’ operations may safely bypass searches to which members of the bar in good standing should be added, or for the safety of us all, we should all submit to individual searches. If, as seems now the case, some type of pre-screening will suffice from a security standpoint, that ought to be made available to attorneys who practice in the courts.
Although there are reportedly 180,000 licensed attorneys in New York State, only a small percentage of those lawyers are regular court practitioners. Those attorneys should be accorded the same opportunity to obtain court- approved credentials to permit access to the courts on the same basis as other professional and non-professional court personnel. In order to minimize the administrative and economic burden of pre-screening attorneys, NYCLA is prepared to work collaboratively with court administrators to develop and apply screening measures to effectuate an even-handed approach to courthouse security.
In order to preserve our commitment to the fair administration of justice and to maintain the dignity of the bar and public confidence in the legal profession, the Board of Directors authorizes NYCLA’s President to seek support for this proposal from other bar groups. The Board further authorizes the President to initiate discussions with the Office of Court Administration to advocate an amendment of the current policy to insure that all essential court personnel, including attorneys, be accorded access to court facilities subject to the same screening procedures.