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Bar News - November 18, 2011

Federal Court Eases Access for Attorneys

Steven J. McAuliffe
The following is an Oct. 24 letter from Chief Judge Steven J. McAuliffe of the US District Court to attorneys practicing in the federal court. "Bar Card" refers to the ID card recently issued by the federal court, not the NHBA membership card.

After the court implemented the Bar Card Program nearly five months ago, I was told by a few members of our bar that they had experienced no noticeable difference in courthouse access procedures — that our bar identification card was essentially useless. I immediately looked into the matter and found that to be the case, though that was obviously not what was intended.

Although it may surprise many people, in the federal system neither the chief judge, nor the district court, has final authority when it comes to courthouse security and access issues. Several different constituencies have an influential role but, in the end, the United States Marshal is responsible for security. As I have come to appreciate, balancing legitimate security interests against the legitimate interest of citizens in ease of access to public buildings, particularly public courthouses, is not a simple exercise.

Bar Card Program Modified

Attorney Screening
Pilot Expands to Manchester

At presstime, equipment and software was being installed at the screening station in the new Hillsborough County North Superior Court building in Manchester to extend the successful attorney screening pilot project now in use in Nashua.

Hillsborough County Sheriff James Hardy says the security pilot project, in collaboration with the NH Bar Association, allows attorneys to bypass screening with credentials and a certification obtained through the Sheriff’s office. The Bar assists the project with membership database updates.

The NH Bar Association is in discussion with the judicial branch on a collaboration to use the NH Bar ID card to provide expedited access to the courthouse for active-status members of the Bar who have agreed to comply with certain rules and procedures.

After a great deal of thought and discussion, and due largely to the diligent and cooperative efforts of US District Court Clerk Jim Starr and the US Marshal’s Service, we have been able to modify the Bar Card Program in ways that should significantly reduce the burdens of courthouse access for members of the bar of this court. Needless to say, we all owe a debt of gratitude to US Marshal David L. Cargill, Jr., for his consideration of our proposals and his agreement to implement those that are not inconsistent with current security doctrine.

And, while working on security and access issues, we have also revised the court’s policy regarding use of electronic devices within the Rudman Courthouse in a way that you should find helpful.

In order to facilitate ease of access to the courthouse for members of our bar, we have modified the Bar Card Program as follows:

The program is for active members of our bar only.
Bar cards are non-transferable and, if lost, that loss must be promptly reported to the Clerk’s office.

The Clerk, may, in his discretion, decline to issue, or request return of a previously issued, bar card, subject to review by the Chief Judge.

While attorneys who present a bar card will still have to walk through the magnetometer, they will not be required to remove jewelry, watches, shoes, belts or any other items and will routinely be allowed to proceed without further delay. Occasionally, a random spot check may involve a quick scan with a metal detector wand, or a request to open a jacket for a quick visual inspection. Briefcases, bags, and winter coats, of course, will still have to pass through the x-ray machine as the attorney proceeds through the magnetometer.

To address legitimate security concerns associated with our revised access policy, we have adopted the following requirements:
Cardholders may not transport another person’s (including clients’) personal property into the building.

Bar cards will contain an expiration date and must be renewed every 24 months. The Card will serve as valid identification for purposes of the 100 percent ID requirement. Existing cards will be valid until December 31, 2012.

Attorneys must self-report all felony or misdemeanor convictions as well as any arrests where the underlying offense includes a firearm or other deadly weapon. LR 83.5, DR-2.

The new bar card application affidavit, and the court’s complete policy regarding these bar credentials, are now available on the court’s website for your review. If you object to any of these new terms or conditions, please return your bar card at your earliest convenience to the Clerk. If your bar card is not returned, we will presume that you understand and agree to these new conditions as well as accept the expanded privileges that are now available.
Bar Members Allowed Use of Smartphones

I am also pleased to report that we have relaxed the restrictions on possession and use of electronic devices within the Rudman Courthouse. An amendment to Local Rule 83.7(c)(2) is in the public comment stage. If no modifications are made, the new rule will be effective on December 1, 2011, and will read as follows:

Unless otherwise prohibited by a judge or the Clerk, members of the bar of this court and their agents may possess and use cell phones, computers, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and similar electronic devices within the Rudman Courthouse. However, such devices shall be set on silence mode, and no telephone calls will be made or received, while in any courtroom or judge’s chambers without specific advance authorization by the presiding judge. Additionally, the use of cell phones for telephone calls shall be restricted to conference rooms within the Rudman Courthouse.

The new bar card policy and local rule modification strike a difficult balance between the need to provide a secure facility for the public and those who work here, on the one hand, and unburdened access for officers of the court, on the other hand. As attorneys, we all understand and accept our responsibilities and obligations as officers of this court. In the court’s view, officers of this court are entitled to respect, trust, and a security protocol that reflects the trustworthiness that accompanies that status. The United States Marshal agrees, and the new policy will hopefully result in less intrusion, stress, and delay when you come to the federal court. Please, in turn, do what you can to make the security officers’ jobs as painless and pleasant as you can. It is regrettable that the "security experience" is necessary at all — none of us likes it — but perhaps this adjustment, that seeks to reasonably tailor security requirements to the person gaining access, will prove satisfactory.

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