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Judges' Workgroup To Study Courthouse Safety In Florida

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A new workgroup is focusing on beefing up public safety in Florida’s courthouses, and it will have a local voice. 

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga says the panel is a response to what he calls acts of violence in streets and communities nationwide. 

“There’s [sic] a lot of things going on in the world today; people do crazy things,” said Labarga. “Courthouses are places where we summon hundreds of jurors a week; we require people to show up for hearings. It’s a place where people go where they don’t necessarily want to go. If we’re going to make them go, at least we should make them safe.”

One of the committee members is Linda Nobles, Chief Judge for the First Judicial Circuit covering Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties. The members were selected, she says, because their districts have courthouses that reflect such needs.

“We have a variety of different courthouses; we have some bigger, we have some smaller [with] different safety issues,” Nobles said. “

Among the courthouses in the First Judicial District is the Santa Rosa facility in Milton, which opened in 1927. The latest attempt to pass a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a replacement was defeated in last week’s primary.  

“The Santa Rosa Courthouse is antiquated and certainly has a number of issues, safety being one,” said Nobles. “I certainly intend to bring the Santa Rosa courthouse into the discussion. Hopefully we will be taking a site visit so that the committee can see at least one example of something that I think needs to be addressed.”

Given the string of incidents, some deadly, at courthouses and other facilities in the U.S. in the past few years, one question about the committee’s formation and work is whether they’re proactive or reactive. Nobles says probably a little of both.

“I think it is proactive, because to date, blessing, we have not had any problems,” said Nobles. “However, of course, when you look at what’s going on in the state and in the nation, I think we need to be aware that we could have some difficulties.”

Among the topics expected to be studied by the committee is social media, and how the judiciary can benefit from the increased scrutiny it brings. 

“Judges don’t normally go around advertising what they do,” said Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. “I think it’s time that using social media we let people know all those good things that judges do.”

A meeting of the committee had been scheduled for last week, but Judge Linda Nobles says Hurricane Hermine took care of that, and there are no further meetings planned. But Chief Justice Labarga already has issued their marching orders, starting with information gathering.

“Once we have the information together, then organize it in a way that we can have maybe models for different courthouse needs,” said Nobles. “And then make recommendations.”

Fort Myers Circuit Judge Margret Steinbeck will chair the workgroup, which also includes judges from Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Tallahassee and Sanford, as well as attorneys from Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Each will serve a two-year term.