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Fear of Courthouse Traffic Jam Stalls Security Plan

March 15, 1988|LYNN STEINBERG | Times Staff Writer

Faced with the prospect of long lines and delays in legal proceedings, officials postponed a plan Monday to install a metal detector in the lobby of the Van Nuys Courthouse.

The metal detector was to be moved from a trial court today at the request of judges concerned about a courtroom shoot-out last Wednesday that left a gunman dead and a county marshal wounded. But court officials said Monday the metal detector now used for individual courtrooms was so sensitive it would force searches of virtually everyone entering the building.

Instead, officials hope to obtain a detector similar to those found in airports. Those detectors are equipped with an X-ray device that allows quick examination of briefcases, purses and other hand-carried items whose contents are likely to set off the detector.

"Every single individual would have to be stopped and thoroughly examined," said S.S. Schwartz, the supervising judge in the Van Nuys Superior Court. "We would have a line out the door and around the courthouse. We would be worse off.

"If you do something, I believe in doing it right, and this wouldn't be right," Schwartz said. "We need the right equipment."

Schwartz said he hopes the equipment can be installed in Van Nuys within 30 days. He said he has urged county officials to avoid the typical bureaucratic process "where they study it and come back with reports and one or two years go by and you don't see any action. We want action."

A security committee has asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to install metal detectors equipped with X-ray devices at all courthouses, Schwartz said. The board is expected to consider that request today.

In the meantime, Schwartz said, he has asked the Sheriff's Department to provide metal detectors in courtrooms where murder trials are under way.

At the San Fernando Valley's other major court building, the four-story San Fernando Courthouse, the back entrance will be blocked and a metal detector will be installed in the front lobby today, said Lt. Edwin M. Powell, division commander of the marshal's office at the courthouse.

Last week's shooting occurred in a temporary court bungalow next to the Van Nuys Courthouse. Jeremey A. Sigmond, 35, convicted the day before in Municipal Court of misdemeanor charges including carrying a concealed weapon, forced the prosecutor in the case into the court at gunpoint. Sigmond was killed moments later in an exchange of gunfire with Deputy Marshal Cliff Wofford, 30, of Palmdale.

Wofford, who was shot in the abdomen, was in stable condition Monday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Times staff writer Tracey Kaplan contributed to this story.

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