A Lewis County judge jumped into action to stop an attack in his courtroom and microphones captured it all. That incident in Chehalis came just months after a scathing report on courtroom safety statewide.
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Last Thursday, District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard sat inside the Lewis County Courthouse, on the bench, listening to a motion, until a 63-year-old Tenino man took exception to his ruling.
"I ruled against him," said Buzzard, "and he turned and hit the attorney behind the left ear in the back of the head with out any forewarning. And I left the bench and restrained him."
Before the assault, microphones captured Buzzard saying, "I'll enter the judgment against you."
"So here's what can happen," the defendant replies. The next sound is of a sudden movement and a woman screaming.
Buzzard said he immediately left the bench and did not hesitate.
"Absolutely not," said Buzzard, "because somebody in the courtroom was being attacked and I didn't know what this individual's intentions were. And the safety of everyone in the courtroom was an issue at that point. And it was supposed to be a civil proceeding."
Buzzard said in his 14 years on the bench, no one has ever gotten violent in his courtroom. He may just have been lucky.
Twenty-three years ago, Timothy Blackwell shot and killed three people in the King County Superior courtroom, including his pregnant wife. Four days later, the metal detectors judges had been begging for for years were finally installed.
But just three months ago, the Washington Superior Court Judges Association issued a scathing report about the state of courtroom security. Their verdict: Courtroom security remains "grossly inadequate." In fact, half of the state's superior courts have no security at all. By one estimate, Washington state had more documented violence in its courtrooms than New York state, which is nearly three times larger.
Lewis County is one of the 19 courthouses in the state where someone has to pass through security even to enter the building. That did not help this time. But the judge said because of what happened, he now thinks they need something else inside the courtroom: a video camera.
"Yeah, we'll likely be following through," he said. "It was a cost restraint previously but I think with what happened, it'll happen."
"I never expected an assault to occur in a courtroom," mused Buzzard. "I guess wishful thinking."
Just in case it does happen again, there could be video evidence of it, too.
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