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Bar News - October 20, 2006

In the Works: Expedited Courthouse Screening of Attorneys


Pilot Project Launch Slated for Jan. 1, 2007 at Hillsborough County



Hillsborough County Sheriff James Hardy is working with the New Hampshire Bar Association and court officials on an alternative process for screening attorneys at the county courthouses in Manchester and Nashua. A pilot project is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2007.


 Sheriff Hardy
Hillsborough County Sheriff James Hardy is working with the NHBA and court officials to speed the screening process attorneys at courthouse entrances.

The details are still in the works, but the process would allow attorneys in good standing with picture identification to bypass the standard security screening station at the courthouse entrance, at the discretion of the sheriff’s court officers on duty. NHBA membership cards, with photos, would be part of the credentials required for bypassing the weapons screening.  (See page 2 for related article on NHBA identification cards.) The credentialing process would also include a briefing on security restrictions and guidelines, to which attorneys would specifically agree.  

Hardy has been meeting over the past several months with NHBA President Richard B. McNamara and Executive Director Jeannine McCoy, and with Supreme Court Associate Justice Richard Galway, who chairs a Supreme Court Task Force on Courthouse Security, on developing the pilot.


Hardy said he believes that allowing attorneys who can be readily identified by sheriff’s court officers to waive the standard screening process could enhance courthouse security by reducing the lines at the door and speeding the progress of all members of the public seeking to enter courthouses. Hardy said he is also conscious of the perception created with clients, potential jurors and other members of the public when the defense attorneys must undergo security screening while attorneys from the prosecution are able to bypass the security checks. Hardy said that sheriff’s court officers are instructed to maintain a “neutral environment” when serving in a security role in the courthouse, and the difference in treatment between defense attorneys and prosecutors detracts from that.


“I have never thought that it was appropriate that defense attorneys, who also are officers of the court, are standing in line” Hardy said. “That difference in treatment takes away from the neutral environment we strive to maintain. We want to make sure that everyone coming to court is treated with dignity and respect, maintain a neutral environment, and eliminate the issue of potential prejudice of the jury.”


The NHBA decided last year to issue membership cards to all active members of the Bar, and McNamara has worked to build support for the idea of using the ID cards in conjunction with an expedited screening process to allow attorneys regularly practicing in state courthouses to bypass the time-consuming security screening.


“As part of their professional obligations, lawyers make representations that courts rely upon.  Similarly, the entire system of regulating lawyers’ trust accounts is based upon lawyers’ obligation to make truthful representations.  This program will simply allow the sheriff to rely on the representation of lawyers, as courts do, in order to facilitate security.”


Hardy is investigating staffing and physical layout issues to ensure security is maintained. The sheriff’s court officers would retain the discretion to order any person to go through screening, and to conduct random screening checks. Hardy, the Court, and Bar officials also are conferring on how to ensure that the court officers have the most up-to- date information on a Bar member’s standing and eligibility to participate in the expedited screening process. 


“Sheriff Hardy is a thoughtful and, most importantly, innovative person who has brought his considerable energies to bear on this task,” said McNamara. “He has a fine sense of justice, and recognizes that his obligation is to keep the courts secure and safe so that they can dispense justice equally and fairly. It has been a pleasure to work with him throughout this process.”


The pilot program for the alternative entry process could be evaluated after three to four months, and the results shared with other counties. “I am sure there is interest among other sheriffs in this,” said Hardy, who recently completed a term as president of the New Hampshire Sheriff’s Association. “But the first order of business for all of us is to maintain a secure environment.”


Hardy recently was appointed to serve on the NH Court Accreditation Commission – the entity which oversees planning for judicial branch facilities – which is looking at a series of recommendations by Galway’s task force to enhance courthouse security.


Hardy believes that the attorney screening process is not a shortcut to security, but an additional security enhancement measure. “This is a pilot project to minimize the lines at the front door and still keep a safe courthouse environment,” he said.


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