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Courtroom doors are locked

By Staff | Feb 6, 2012

Faribault County court recorder Orv Terhark

In the past, the doors to justice in Faribault County have always open.

As of late, however, they’ve been locked up at certain times.

“It makes sense, but it was kind of a nuisance at first. We hate to admit that were not living in a Mayberry world anymore,” says County Attorney Troy Timmerman.

In January, court officials began locking the doors to the courtroom when cases are not being heard.

The decision to do so is in response to last December’s courthouse shooting of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell by a man he prosecuted for criminal sexual conduct.

Following the incident, personnel of the Fifth Judicial District Office in Mankato conducted a security audit of 15 courthouses in the district including Faribault County.

Judge Douglas Richards says in Redwood Falls, officials found a knife taped to the bottom of a bench in the courtroom.

Richards has served 16 years on the bench and during that time his courtroom has never been locked.

“I’ve always thought public access is important and I still think so. But, you have to weigh public access with proper security,” he says.

The audit at the local courthouse did find that some “minor issues” needed to be addressed.

“They were just some things that when you go to work everyday you don’t even think about,” Richards says.

For instance, you will no longer see pens, pencils, staplers, cords or any other loose items.

Also, metal water pitchers at the attorney tables have been replaced with plastic 6-ounce bottled water.

“We removed anything that could be used as a weapon,” says Richards. “The safety measures we took didn’t cost us anything to do.”

Sheriff Mike Gormley was also present during the security audit.

“In an older courthouse like ours, addressing security issues can be difficult and a challenge,” he says.

In some instances, county officials have found it necessary to have armed deputies present during hearings.

“We try to be aware of cases where there’s the potential for emotions to run high,” says Gormley.

Once the findings of the audit have been compiled and released, Gormley expects local court officials will meet to discuss them.

“There are always things we can do to make it more safe for employees and the public,” he says. “That’s the responsibility of the sheriff’s office.”