The five members of the county’s Circuit and District courts addressed the topic after a member of the audience asked about courthouse security.
“There is none,” Circuit Judge Hoyt Elliott asserted.
Presiding Circuit Judge Jerry Selman said handguns have been brought into local courtrooms, including during a trial that occurred approximately one year ago.
“If one of the deputies hadn’t caught on to the fact that the girlfriend was bringing a .45 in every day, he would have shot it out in my courtroom,” Selman said.
There have been at least two other security incidents at the courthouse in the past year.
In January 2013, the courthouse was placed on lockdown after a Jasper man reportedly threatened to kill several people, including his ex-wife.
Another man fled the courtroom of District Judge Henry Allred after being found in contempt of court. The man tripped and slammed into a wall near the offices of the Walker County Commission, which was meeting at the time.
There is no secure entrance at the courthouse, a fact that Elliott said recently shocked some out-of-town visitors.
There is only one metal detector in the building, and it is used mainly during high-profile trials.
District Judges Henry Allred and Greg Williams both shared personal stories of times that they have felt unsafe at the courthouse.
Allred said he avoided phone calls from a defendant two days in a row only to have the man meet him in the courthouse parking lot on the third day.
“If you’re taking people’s kids away from them and they’re waiting on you when you get out of your truck, it’s pretty scary,” Allred said.
Williams said extra deputies were in his courtroom last week because of a defendant who had made a death threat against him over the previous weekend.
“I’ve always heard the expression ‘shaken from fear.’ I have never seen it until he came before me that day. But that is the only way that we are going to know if something is going to happen at that courthouse is if they give us a heads-up first,” Williams said.
Elliott said he is concerned not only for his own safety but also that of law-abiding citizens.
“I’ve had jurors say to me, ‘Is there no security in this courthouse?’ When you have the general public concerned for their own health and well-being while in that courthouse, that is a problem,” Elliott said.
Elliott added that the current commission shares the judges’ concerns about security but have had difficulty finding room in the budget to fix the issue.