Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Court House Security

For a long time now, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma has been quietly considered a backwater by many city lawyers because of its strange policy toward electronic devices in the courthouse. In an age where lawyers may carry their entire practice around with them on a laptop and a Blackberry, the Muskogee Federal Court does not allow any of these devices in their courthouse. I once tried to explain to the flawlessly courteous but equally firm security personnel there that I could not check my schedule without my PDA and that I kept most of my working documents on my laptop. It was obvious that I was speaking a foreign language to them.

This week, this backwater issue took on new urgency when all of
the federal court houses in the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, including bankruptcy courts, adopted the same policy. There was a hue and cry from a large segment of the Oklahoma bar and the policy was rescinded within hours of its issuance. (See the memo at the end of this post.)

But, this whole flap highlights just how much damage a few lunatics with box cutters could do to the American constitution. I can only imagine what Thomas Jefferson would have to say after passing through a courthouse security checkpoint where his pen knife was seized, his brief case and papers x-rayed and his body itself scanned by an electronic device. I think he would say that I can see no probable cause to publicly humiliate anyone who wants to enter a public building simply because a handful of foreign fanatics committed a terrible act.

I admit it. I resent and despise this level of intrusion. I have been forced to nearly disrobe in a federal courthouse lobby more than once. Standing before my peers without my glasses, the entire contents of pockets including medications visible for all to see, my shoes in one hand, my belt in the other, trying to hold my pants up with one hand to prevent an indignity worse still, I freely admit that I was furious with my government for allowing a few foreign fanatics with boxcutters to inflict this violation of personal dignity and privacy upon us all. And I do mean upon us all because you have not seen a truly frightening sight until you have watched a middle aged, overweight, coldly furious lawyer standing in the middle of a federal building trying to replace his belt and shoes all while holding his pants up with one hand.

If I try to attack a judge or opposing counsel with my inch and half long Swiss Army Diplomat then by all means please shoot me and get it over with. If I am caught secretly photographing drug informants and then e-mailing the pictures then by all means prosecute me to the full extent of the law. But in the meanwhile, do not force me to disrobe in the lobby, guess about my schedule, tear at sealed envelopes with my fingers and try to remove staples with a ball point pen just because I am in the court house.

This idiocy has to end and the sooner the better.


Postscript: just substitute the word "terrorist" for drugs or cocaine as you read the following:

Don't lose sight of what's really on trial here -- our basic personal freedoms,
our quality of life...

Sublime concepts, such as "the right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures..."

For when we condone the bugging of our citizens' bedrooms, when we allow the police
to enter our citizens' homes with specious warrants, when we invade our citizens'
privacy in a frenzied quest for a wicked white powder, aren't we capitulating to
the evil, aren't we surrendering to the drug? Aren't we saying cocaine is more
potent than our Constitution?

From the script of the film "True Believer," 1989


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