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After shooting at judge's office, security at district courts called into question

At the Somerset County courthouse, two deputies guard the entrance, while those visiting have to go through a metal detector and put their belongings through an X-ray machine. (WJAC)

SOMERSET, Pa. (WJAC) -- At the Somerset County courthouse, two deputies guard the entrance, while those visiting have to go through a metal detector and put their belongings through an X-ray machine.

At magisterial district courts, that's not always the case.

"Our magistrate’s offices in Somerset, we have a secure lobby area, so the general public can walk right into the lobby, but they can't access the staff or the rest of the courtroom without being buzzed in," said court administrator Brad Cober.

Cober says district court lobbies have protective glass between clerks and the public and drawers to push through paperwork.

Noticeably, there are no sheriff's deputies in the office.

"We try to do the best we can with the manpower and the budgets that are given to us,” Cober said. “Are we totally secure? No. Will we ever be totally secure? That's just not feasible."

After Wednesday’s shooting in Fayette County, where a gunman injured four people before being killed by police, many are looking at security issues.

"While this pushes it to the forefront of the public, this is something that our association has been working for, for years. And slowly but surely, it has gotten better," said Judge Michael Cabry III.

Cabry is president of the Special Court Judges Association of Pennsylvania.

He says lately there's been more money allotted to the courts for security to get bulletproof glass and other upgrades, but some courthouses are still outdated.

"We're the local courts. We're the community courts, that are constitutionally mandated to be out in the community, rather than one central location, so it does, it causes a little bit of (a) problem with security," Cabry said.

In Somerset County, district courts do have access to handheld wands available for police to use, but in certain instances where trouble is anticipated, cases will be moved to the main courthouse.

"The magistrate can typically tell, particularly if a person's been in their office before, if it could be a bad actor, and in those cases, they move their hearings to here," Cober said.

"We are working with the AOPC (Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts) security, as well as the President Judge Association, to make the courts more secure, not only for the employees, but also for the public in general," Cabry said.

In Somerset County, the AOPC recently offered up another $20,000 to make security improvements within the county.

Right now, the court administrator is working with his staff to figure out exactly where that money will go.

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