The Ottumwa Courier

Court Calls

February 16, 2013

Safe access to justice

Court Calls

OTTUMWA — When news broke about recent courthouse violence in Delaware, it hit close to home. Immediately, we grieve the human toll on the victims, their families and friends. Two judges working in that east-coast courthouse are my friends, and I naturally worry about the evolving impact the shootings will have on them personally and professionally, and on their colleagues and staff. In the larger picture of justice in the United States, the tragedy exacts a toll not readily seen, yet with broad implications for people across the country.

Courthouses are supposed to be safe havens where people go for protection under the Rule of Law — that guiding principle that when the law is applied fairly to all, it protects the vulnerable and stabilizes society. A key aspect of justice under the law is the ability to make a claim, have it addressed in a fair and orderly process and have it resolved peaceably. When courthouses are not perceived to be safe for the transactions of justice, people may be discouraged from exercising their rights or from demanding redress for wrongs.

In recent years the issue of “access to justice” has been in the spotlight — with much of the concern focused on helping the indigent get lawyer assistance, accommodating the disabled so they can fully participate at the courthouse and providing interpreters for those who don’t speak English. A much more pervasive and insidious barrier to justice, however, is the fear of physical harm in the public forum. International news accounts illustrate how readily people’s rights can be suppressed by intimidation.

Courthouse security is a thorny topic for legislators making policy in Des Moines, as well as for the people on the ground in Iowa’s 99 counties. It costs money, and it requires consistent attention to the details of keeping all of government’s customers safe. In particular, the state-run courts face dangers daily, reliant upon county-centric security policies that can turn on local politics, priorities and a run of luck. Delaware’s tragedy is one more wake-up call to immediate challenges confronting the modern court system.

For the promise of justice to have real meaning, people have to be confident they can get it, safely.  

Judge Scieszinski is a district-court judge from Albia. In 2005 she represented Iowa judges on the Iowa State Bar Association’s Courthouse Security Task Force. She may be reached at

Text Only
Court Calls
  • 0824 Court Calls photo Scieszinski -M -T The reach of sociology Every year Iowa judges are invited to speak in local schools, on college campuses and at civic events to help the community understand the role of the courts in daily life. An interesting trend on my circuit of judicial outreach is the demand for pre

    August 23, 2013 1 Photo

  • Good news By Chief Judge Mary Ann Brown The Iowa Judicial Branch dedicates itself to providing independent and accessible forums for the fair and prompt resolution of disputes, administering justice under law equally to all people. -- Iowa Judicial Branch Mis

    July 27, 2013

  • 0622 OTT Opinion Judge Lucy Gamon photo -T -L The judge as gatekeeper when the goal is justice "… no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Constitution of the United States, Amendment 4 It is 2 a.m. on a dar

    June 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0608 OTT Judge Joel Yates photo -L Who was James Otis? Most Americans can associate some names with our country's fight for independence from the English Monarchy, which began in earnest in 1775: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams. Few, if any, would credit James Otis. Here is why they should. It

    June 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0529 OTT Opinion Judge Annette Scieszinski photo A different kind of cyber threat The reality is, that in our country's culture, people depend on electronic devices. For many, it's become a 24/7 relationship. Sometimes I wonder where it will lead us, and if coming generations will be born with advanced dexterities to instinctively

    May 29, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0511 OTT Opinion Judge Myron Gookin -T -M We never really graduate It's May, and the graduation announcements are rolling in. It's a wonderful time to celebrate the educational achievements of those who are graduating from various schools. It did not take me long, however, to realize that learning does not end with

    May 11, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0425 Opinion Judge Mary Ann Brown photo -L Spring brings magistrate commissions Hopefully, spring color will soon be here. It seems like it's been a long time coming. This spring also brings with it the process associated with selecting judicial magistrates. Local commissions have begun the process of taking applications, interv

    April 25, 2013 1 Photo

  • The kind of judge I will be

    April 6, 2013

  • Selecting a new judge

    March 16, 2013

  • Symbolism and functionality

    March 2, 2013

AP National