The Superior Court judge of Pacific and Wahkiakum counties warned of a “perfect storm of coming tragedy” in a letter to Governor Jay Inslee that announced his upcoming December retirement and called attention to a lack of funding, particularly in Washington’s rural counties, to address security concerns at courthouses that have fallen behind the times.
Superior Court Judge Doug Goelz said people do not have to pass through metal detectors when entering his historic courthouse in South Bend, a roughly two hour drive southwest of Seattle, though there is a metal detector and a deputy outside of his courtroom.
Pacific County Commissioner Frank Wolfe told KIRO 7 that the deputy sometimes must leave his post and help elsewhere because of low staffing levels, leaving the courtroom metal detector unguarded.
"In a better time, in a better place, it should've been that way,” said Judge Goelz in a skype interview with KIRO 7. “It's just not that time and not that place anymore."
Judge Goelz told the governor it would cost more than $200,000 to make his courthouse safer, not including money to pay yearly salaries for additional security staff.
"Local jurisdictions just don't have the funds to deal with this problem,” said Judge Goelz.
"It is apparent to me that a culture of disrespect toward the judiciary, the prevalence and availability of semi-automatic weapons, and an obvious drift toward physical violence to resolve disputes or dissatisfaction create a perfect storm of coming tragedy,” wrote Judge Goelz in the letter to Governor Inslee sent last week. “When it happens, everyone will regret lost opportunities and bemoan a failure of leadership, finally scrambling for funds and implementing necessary changes.”
Judge Goelz is not the first judge to call attention to security concerns at Washington courthouses.
In 2012, a judge was stabbed and a deputy was shot inside the Grays Harbor County courthouse.
“We have no security,” said Judge David Edwards in an interview with KIRO 7 several days after being stabbed.
Six years later, King County judges continue to be vocal about security concerns.
In September, KIRO 7 showed you some of weapons confiscated at the King County Courthouse.
A deputy then called attention to aging security equipment and said some weapons make it through screenings.
“We went out and surveyed all of our 39 counties and we found that half of the counties in Washington don't have adequate weapons screening at their public entrances,” said King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell.
KIRO 7 asked Governor Inslee's office if he'll look into the judge’s concerns and a spokesperson said the issue of courthouse security “has not been raised before” to policy or budget staff.
“The governor’s office takes security and safety at all public places very seriously and we will look into these concerns and have conversations with individuals at the county level,” said the governor’s spokesperson.
“Washington State Court General Rule 36 places security of the Courthouse on Trial Judges – this is wrong,” said Judge Goelz in his letter to Gov. Inslee. “I hope that you and your staff are able to deliberate on potential solutions possibly with proposals to the state legislature for funding this important public safety need.”
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