Lengthy security lines to enter the Regional Justice Center have long frustrated visitors to the downtown courthouse.
About two weeks ago, those frustrations boiled over as defense attorney Craig Mueller cursed at a court marshal during a confrontation about the lines.
“(Expletive) you,” Mueller recalled telling the marshal. Mueller said the confrontation began after the marshal mocked him about showing his state Bar card, which allows lawyers to pass through the metal detectors without taking off their shoes and belts. That privilege is extended only to lawyers and not the public.
Mueller contended that marshals were purposely slowing the line by asking veteran lawyers for their Bar cards.
“They are grinding out an agenda. I don’t know what that agenda is, but I’ve been coming here for 20-something years with no problem,” he said. “It is literally shutting down the courthouse.”
Mueller said he’s had to continue five cases in recent weeks because clients have missed their appearances because they were stuck in line.
While lawyers like Mueller have their own line for speedier access, members of the public — on some days as many as 8,000 — have been known to wait as long as an hour to pass through security.
Court administrators and marshals are aware of the frustration and say relief is on the way, which includes the reopening of the Clark Street entrance, the hiring of more marshals and the eventual reconfiguration of the Lewis Street security entrance.
‘everyone is frustrated’
Marshal Karl Beavers, vice president of the Clark County Deputy Marshals Association, denied Mueller’s accusation that marshals were purposely slowing down the line.
The marshals are following protocols set by the administration, he said.
“Everyone is frustrated by the situation,” Beavers said.
Chief judge Jennifer Togliatti and the court administration are doing the best they can with the available resources, Beavers said. But fixing it, “is not going to be a quick process.”
Since the year began, a perfect storm of problems has exasperated the issue.
Two marshals retired, one because he was injured while trying to restrain a combative defendant. Three more marshals resigned and moved to other agencies. And one of the three scanners at the main entrance to the courthouse, located on Lewis street, has been broken for weeks.
It was that latest problem that led to the incident with Mueller.
Beavers explained that because there were only two scanners, the line reserved for lawyers was merged with the public line.
The marshals couldn’t assume everyone in a suit was a lawyer and, as part of their protocol, they asked lawyers for their Bar card.
shorter lines coming
Relief is on the way, Togliatti said in a statement to the Review-Journal.
In September, the Clark County commission approved a plan to shorten the courthouse lines.
The plan would add eight new court marshals to operate two scanners loaned to the courthouse by the Nevada Supreme Court, at minimal cost to taxpayers.
The state Supreme Court will fund most of two positions, and District Court officials will be able to add six more by rearranging existing positions.
The problem is finding qualified people for those positions. Clark County marshals are the lowest paid law enforcement agency in the county and filling the jobs can take as long as four months.
In the meantime, other changes have been made to alleviate the problem, Togliatti said.
Last week the south gate entrance on Clark Street was opened for jurors with identification and a summons, law enforcement officers and lawyers with a current Bar card.
The south entrance, which was closed a couple of years ago because of staffing shortages, will be open from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on weekdays.
And four marshals were recently hired.
The chief judge added that the administration and its security team is also looking to reconfigure the main entrance to the Regional Justice Center.
And court administrators are hoping that once the third scanner at the main entrance is running, the line will grow even shorter.
“We are acutely aware of the issue and of the immense difficulties and frustration it presents to attorneys and the public,” Togliatti said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience while we work though the issues to keep the courthouse secure and accessible.”
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.