Last week, just a block away from the Pickens County Courthouse, Redmond Coyle, an attorney, was killed in a shocking murder-suicide by the adverse party in an ongoing family court action.
This came just days after a ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court which found that Sheriffs were responsible for providing courtroom security. This ruling addressed a lawsuit brought in 2003 in Lexington County in which a defendant in a domestic violence hearing attacked the victim in a magistrate's court.
Less than two years ago, someone was able to enter the Lancaster County courthouse and set it on fire without being detected (as shown in the photo). Several days later, the county's Solicitor's office was set ablaze.
In talking with a number of members of the state's legal community, the Blogland has become aware of numerous threats to security which exist in courthouses. These include two county courthouses where:
Those awaiting trial can walk into judges' chambers, and
Anyone can walk up to the judges' chambers front door and the courtroom back door without going through a security checkpoint.
The locaton of these courthouses will not be divulged to prevent from creating additional dangers, and they are not the only concerns that were shared with us.
While the main courthouses in major counties are fairly secure, these problems seem fairly common in smaller counties. While the recent ruling suggested some of these security issues can be addressed by more law enforcement, our investigation has suggested the presence of other problems, including courtroom design, which require serious action on a number of fronts.
Calls made before Christmas to S.C. Court Administration seeking comment about these concerns were not returned. One can only hope that the issue is being taken more seriously than our phone calls were, but we're not holding our breath.
If our state's system of justice is so vulnerable to threats, it brings into question the ability of the legal and judicial community to operate fairly, efficiently, and most importantly, safely.