Courthouse Insecurity: You wait in line. You have to take your coat off. You take everything out of your pockets and put it in a plastic tray. You walk through the electric arch, and it always beeps like a cardiac monitor signaling an impending demise — every time, no matter how carefully you have divested yourself of metal. Meanwhile, the uniformed operatives are eyeing your personal items in the tray so that they can hang onto your grandfather’s jackknife, while nearby the x-ray conveyor is chewing up your favorite briefcase. Always you are asked to step aside so you can be electronically frisked with a handheld wand. Every time, the wand beeps like crazy over the most unlikely parts of your body and, then, as if that is just normal, they tell you to go on in.
The only thing worse than having to do this every time you enter the temple of justice where you have been practicing your profession for twenty years is seeing a lawyer who has been a practicing prosecutor for twenty weeks walk around the machinery, with a cheery wave, not even breaking stride.
It is the judges who clamor for the protection these humiliating rituals are thought to provide. They do not want to be shot by irate litigants. The days of the crusty jurist who felt secure enough with a peacemaker under the bench seem to be over.
All this metal detection is a result of poor judicial selection. We now have plenty of judges who have gone straight from high school to college to law school to five or ten years in a government law job to a judgeship. Such judges have little practical experience in street and jungle survival arts. They correctly fear that they would not acquit themselves well in a fair fight against a hothead with a Beretta. These judges sense that, since they have little of the empathy for folks in tight spots that comes only with having been in a few, their judging will push a fair number of people past their breaking points.
Worst of all, these judges want to live long lives. They are young. They eat cardboard and exercise. They drive enclosed light trucks, the 90’s safety equivalent of Volvo wagons. They have many years of safe living ahead of them, and they don’t want to get shot.
It wasn’t always like this. In a past America, a judgeship was the reward at the end of a long and varied private legal practice with lots of flawed clients, not to mention an often bumpy personal road with lots of flawed friends and relatives. Usually, by the time such lawyers donned the black robe, they had debilitated themselves through vice and did not have long to live. Talk about empathy! Talk about the hard-won skill to avoid driving people nuts and the confidence to deal with the occasional slip-up!
Courthouse Insecurity:Best of all, these darling old judges didn’t care a fig about courthouse security. Any day could bring a bullet, a knife, an infarction, a stroke or the wheezing of incipient lung cancer. All the same to them. We should take out the metal detectors, open the doors to the spring breezes, and tell the bar that if you want to be a judge, fine, but you’ve got to be Ready To Go.