Behind-the-scenes–Court Security Officers (CSOs)

photoWhen you enter our federal building in Lincoln, you will walk up to a screening station.  Two men or women will great you. They are pleasant and welcoming. They are nicely dressed in pressed grey pants, blue blazers, dress shirts and nice ties. You can’t tell it, but they are carrying semiautomatic firearms. You might notice that they sometimes have little “ear buds” (connecting them to a command station).

They will very efficiently run your things through a scanner. They will ask you to walk through another scanner. This happens even if you are a court employee or other building tenant. If you left your keys in your pants, a buzzer will ring and they may “wand” you if they can’t find the metal that triggered the alarm. As they do this, and sensing your irritation, they will relax you with small talk and then send you on your way.

If you are old, or don’t speak English very well, or are just confused, they will quietly visit with you and help you navigate the five-story building. The children in the day care love these men and women. Each child is known by name, and happily runs through screening process delighted to see and jabber with their old friends.

If you are on the court floors (of our joint use building), you may see them. Aside from small insignia on their blazers, and the ear buds, they look like well dressed middle-aged lawyers. During a civil or criminal trial, and even if the U.S. Marshals are in the courtroom, you might notice a CSO take a seat in the back of the courtroom in one of the two black padded chairs near the rear door. He or she will sit for a little while and then quietly leave.

The men and women I write about are Court Security Officers (CSOs). Our group in Lincoln is composed of the best of the best of retired state troopers and police officers. Since law enforcement officers are forced to retire at a relatively early age, our court benefits by being able to hire these officers when they are in their prime.

Let me give you a little bit of background about the two fellows pictured in the poorly crafted photograph I took yesterday that appears in this post. Both men retired from the Nebraska State Patrol after having long and very distinguished careers. One ended his career as a pilot for the air wing flying both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. The other ended his career protecting the Governor. Each one had 27 years on the Patrol. They are just the best, and, moreover, they are typical of the other CSOs.

In the federal judiciary we are pleased to be protected by the United States Marshals. They are great young men and women with wonderful training. Unknown to most people, however, are the dedicated group of Court Security Officers who bring to our system an important maturity and life long commitment to justice. I happily put my life into the hands of these men and women every day, and they deserve to be recognized for their professionalism and courage.

I would tip my cap to the Lincoln CSOs, but my head is bald as a cue ball. I couldn’t take the grief I would endure from the CSOs. With a respect that is nevertheless wry, CSOs give judges like me just enough crap to remind us that we walk on two legs just like everyone else. We judges need that daily reminder.

CSOs: Great people all.

RGK

 

 

 

 

 

26 responses

  1. Judge,

    Have you given any thought to how your warm feelings toward the CSOs (retired state troopers and police officers) may impact your ability to be skeptical toward law enforcement personnel testifying before you? In the earlier discussion about why judges tend to credit the police rather than defendants, this wasn’t raised. Yet, it strikes me that this would tend to be part of that bundle of feelings that lends itself toward a bias in favor of law enforcement.

    Does this give rise to such concerns?

  2. I am planning to comment later on this exceptionally good post, but I want to respond (as a non-judge) to the question posed by shg. Often when I go to court, it is as an attorney representing criminal defendants. The marshals and CSOs are extremely polite, helpful and bring an air of professionalism to the court surroundings. It is always a relief to know that the marshals will be the first persons I see when I enter the court and that they will be friendly. Also, the marshals serve a fundamental and vital function of protecting the judges and others in the courtroom. The other participants in the court can focus on their own duties, because of the reassurance provided by the marshals’ presence and ability to take quick action, if needed. Elaine Mittleman

  3. Two men or women will great you.

    Never one of each? What’s wrong wit’ yer court?

    As to shg, his paranoia speaks for itself and needs no rejoinder.

    Eric Hines

  4. I miss my court’s CSOs. I brought them doughnuts at the end of each of my terms (I served a 6-month term and a 1-year term) as a law clerk and got lunch with one a few times.

    They were the most charming, polite, and friendly people I’d ever met — as long as you were on their good side.

    On the other hand, I saw one of these elderly gentlemen take down an unruly prisoner with such a violent quickness that I now stand a little straighter every time I see one, even in other courtrooms.

  5. Judge:
    Nice post. Nothing like shining a spotlight on those who would otherwise be taken for granted. On a semi-related note, the ranks from whom CSOs are drawn constitute that special variant of civil servant known as the “double dipper.” That is, after retiring and taking a pension from law enforcement, these individuals now get a full-time paycheck in addition to their pension. While this is not illegal or inappropriate (in fact, I get the sense that most people would love to be in such a position), one can’t help but wonder how long such a thing can be justified from a fiscal standpoint. And, assuming someday that CSOs are no longer drawn from the ranks of retired law enforcement personnel, will there be a lessening in the quality of courthouse protection? Just a thought from a guy who has worked in courthouses nearly all of his professional life…
    Robert

  6. SHG,

    In truth, I had not seen any connection. I will give it some thought.

    An aside: One of the fellows pictured in the photo and I were having a discussion about the recent White House Correspondents’ dinner about a week ago as I stopped to chat on my way home. He told me that he had attended that same dinner event several years ago as part of the Governor’s security detail. He had a funny story of the late Helen Thomas and how she told him to get out of her way as he was assisting his protectee. Anyway, I learned that he is a strong supporter of President Obama. The point, if there is one, is that these folks are some of most thoughtful and least authoritarian “cops” I can imagine. They have long ago mellowed out.

    All the best.

    RGK

  7. Robert,

    Two things:

    1. These guys and gals don’t “double dip” insofar as pensions are concerned. The CSOs are not government employees. They are employed by a big corporation that contracts with the USMS. I believe the USMS then makes them “special deputies” or such to give the police powers in the building. I don’t know what they are paid, but I do know it is not much.

    2. Allowing police officers to retire too early is a bad thing. Both of the fellows in the photo worked 27 years before retiring, and that doesn’t strike me as unreasonable from a fiscal point of view. From a security point of view, I think allowing cops to retire in their 50s makes good sense when you think about the physical demands of the job. As a CSO, the physical demands are quite a bit less, but the need for maturity is very great.

    All the best.

    RGK

  8. I think that the marshals and CSOs humanize the courthouse. I used to appreciate the chance to talk to them when I was at the courthouse after business hours filing a pleading. I could always be sure that they would provide a few jokes or pertinent political comments, which was a pleasant change from the stress of writing a legal pleading. Now, with efiling, I don’t have the opportunity to have some real conversation and humor along with the filing process.

    I was in Atlanta at the 11th Cir. in January for an oral argument. One of the marshals had worked at the D.C. courts. We then had a great conversation about the “old times” and some of the events at the court in D.C. It made me realize how integral the marshals are to the functioning of the court system.

    Finally, the D.C. courts have even had a celebrity as a marshal. Herb Feemster of Peaches and Herb
    (“Reunited” and “Shake Your Groove Thing”) has worked as a marshal. See “Herb Feemster of Peaches and Herb Fame lives the life of a Working-Class Soul Man,” The Washington Post, May 29, 2009. His attitude toward the importance of his job as a marshal shows the significance of the marshals and the CSOs.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803916.html

    Elaine Mittleman

  9. Elaine,

    Simply wonderful! Herb Feemster of Peaches and Herb pop fame is a CSO! Never, ever, would I have had seen that as a possibility. Thanks so much.

    All the best.

    RGK

  10. I think that the double dipping is somewhat problematic, but not as bad in this case as others – since at least they’re not working for the same branch/level of government. The area by me has really awful corruption in that regard, usually at the very local and very unreported on level.

    My solution would be to abolish fixed pensions for government workers, which also have all sorts of terrible incentive effects (e.g. people who switch jobs after reasonably long periods, but not a full career get shafted – and people in their last few years working needless overtime to inflate their pension payouts).

    A 401(k) system with a generous employer contribution, even going so far as to do a free deposit for a base amount to the employee account would be far better. If the government wants, it can offer an annuity payout option or a secured municipal/state/federal bond package that can’t decline in value for more risk averse employees. Similar to the G-fund in the TSP.

    If you have a defined contribution plan, double dipping is impossible – the benefits are fully vested to you and do not depend on you hitting a particular “retirement” marker.

  11. J.Law,

    Yes, everybody really likes these guys. Good for you for remembering them.

    As for the “elderly gentleman” who acted with “violent quickness” that is perfect example of why the word “elderly” is coming to have a new meaning. CSOs must pass fitness standards and qualify on the range. In short, I wouldn’t want to wrestle with any of these guys or gals. And, the best thing is that, with their maturity, they have the experience to defuse most situations without resorting to force.

    All the best.

    RGK

  12. I wonder, shg, do you think that if the judge spent a similar amount of time with your clients, he’d become less “skeptical” towards criminal defendants? You always put your clients on the stand, right, so the judge will see what great people they are?

  13. I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t, but then my clients aren’t necessarily the most savory folks around. This isn’t a parity situation, where criminal defendants are the flip side of law enforcement and one side is always good and the other always bad. But that doesn’t alter the fact that sometimes they tell the truth, and sometimes law enforcement doesn’t.

    On the other hand, if the judge spent enough time with my clients, he would come to realize that some aren’t criminals, some are honest and truthful and all are human beings. One of the lessons of the criminal justice system is that no side owns truth and justice. One of the difficulties in figuring out, in any given case, who has the better claim is overcoming inherent bias.

    Judge Kopf realizes this. You should too.

  14. Jay,

    I think SHG raises a fair point but a very complicated one too.

    Judges are insulated from the real world by all sorts of things. In my case, I insulated myself even more because, believe it or not, I am naturally shy and want mostly to be alone. I don’t vote. I gave up my law license. I don’t socialize. I turned in my membership to the Nebraska Bar. I have absolutely no connection with any religious entity and have had none for over 30 years.

    As a consequence of my isolation and for reasons that I suppose are buried too deep to ferret out in this venue, I do tend to have strong attachments to the people I work with. That has been true since the time I worked for Judge Ross. I have had just enough therapy (about 6 years worth) to understand that these few close attachments are critical to how I see myself.

    Therefore, SHG is right to be worried. But, after giving SHG’s question some more thought last evening, here is what I have concluded:

    My relationship with the CSO (USMs) is forged not by the decisions that I make but by the fact that they protect me. I have to make so many decisions in so many contexts that these security people hardly pay attention and when they do it relates to security concerns and not whether I made the right decision. In turn, I feel no pull to curry their favor or avoid upsetting them. That is, I make so many decisions that could piss them (and other court folks) off that I couldn’t function if I worried about what the CSOs thought.

    Case in point: I declared unconstitutional the Nebraska flag desecration statute in an action brought by the Westboro baptist folks. There was a firestorm of criticism. One of the CSOs hailed me one day to express his concern, not about the decision, but about my safety. He suggested I might need to go about armed, and he added that the USMS or the CSOs could teach me how to shoot. (Since I am a klutz, I declined.) I might have thought (since most of the CSOs are vets) that the substance of my decision would have been disappointing to him, but my ruling was not the focus of his concern.

    To reiterate, I am close to these folks, but cases are like widgets to the CSOs. The important thing to them is doing their job. Instinctively, I know this, and consequently conclude that SHG’s concern that I will influenced by my affection for the CSOs, while entirely legitimate, is not something I need to worry too much about.

    All the best.

    RGK

  15. SHG,

    I said I would think about your question. And, I have. I copy a comment I just sent to Jay and reproduce it below as a partial answer. All the best.

    RGK

    Jay,

    I think SHG raises a fair point but a very complicated one too.

    Judges are insulated from the real world by all sorts of things. In my case, I insulated myself even more because, believe it or not, I am naturally shy and want mostly to be alone. I don’t vote. I gave up my law license. I don’t socialize. I turned in my membership to the Nebraska Bar. I have absolutely no connection with any religious entity and have had none for over 30 years.

    As a consequence of my isolation and for reasons that I suppose are buried too deep to ferret out in this venue, I do tend to have strong attachments to the people I work with. That has been true since the time I worked for Judge Ross. I have had just enough therapy (about 6 years worth) to understand that these few close attachments are critical to how I see myself.

    Therefore, SHG is right to be worried. But, after giving SHG’s question some more thought last evening, here is what I have concluded:

    My relationship with the CSO (USMs) is forged not by the decisions that I make but by the fact that they protect me. I have to make so many decisions in so many contexts that these security people hardly pay attention and when they do it relates to security concerns and not whether I made the right decision. In turn, I feel no pull to curry their favor or avoid upsetting them. That is, I make so many decisions that could piss them (and other court folks) off that I couldn’t function if I worried about what the CSOs thought.

    Case in point: I declared unconstitutional the Nebraska flag desecration statute in an action brought by the Westboro baptist folks. There was a firestorm of criticism. One of the CSOs hailed me one day to express his concern, not about the decision, but about my safety. He suggested I might need to go about armed, and he added that the USMS or the CSOs could teach me how to shoot. (Since I am a klutz, I declined.) I might have thought (since most of the CSOs are vets) that the substance of my decision would have been disappointing to him, but my ruling was not the focus of his concern.

    To reiterate, I am close to these folks, but cases are like widgets to the CSOs. The important thing to them is doing their job. Instinctively, I know this, and consequently conclude that SHG’s concern that I will influenced by my affection for the CSOs, while entirely legitimate, is not something I need to worry too much about.

    All the best.

    RGK

  16. SHG,

    Eric Hines is a bright guy. He is an Air Force veteran, Project Manager, and Systems Engineer living in North Texas. He has also thought a lot about our government, and has written extensively on that subject. He is a literate (conservative) blogger as well. See A Plebe’s Site.

    But, I agree that his “paranoia” remark was off base. What Eric fails to realize is that lawyers, particularly trial lawyers who appear before federal judges, are paid to be paranoid. Indeed, they are ethically obligated to be so.

    Lawyers are preoccupied with the little things that might influence judges because that helps them persuade judges. Trial lawyers are the ultimate legal realists. Small, seemingly insignificant things, might provide the one insight into the judge’s thoughts that will enable the lawyer to move a judge from one side to another.

    Because of this justifiable”paranoia” there is a whole industry devoted to selling tidbits of information about federal judges to lawyers. See The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary which costs $2,099. Supplying trial lawyers with facts that underlie “paranoia” is profitable.

    The very bright Eric should cut you some slack. But his comment also reveals how little lay people truly understand the commitment of trial lawyers to zealously represent their clients. Perhaps that knowledge gap explains why the legal profession is held in low esteem.

    All the best.

    RGK

  17. You’ve chosen to conflate a description of behavior with a claim about the behaver. With words being the stock in trade of a lawyer, this conflation strikes me as an Alinsky-esque attempt to change the subject.

    Which amply illustrates my point.

    Eric Hines

  18. It’s always legitimate to seek an advantage in a contest, especially one where the lives of men are in the wind.

    As to the dedication of lawyers–and of judges, whom I see especially decried without justification–I have no worries.

    What I have a problem with, and what I see from the outside looking in, is the profligacy of using that edge-seeking, those tidbits, not as devices for making the argument about the facts and circumstances of the case at hand more persuasive to a jury or a judge, but as the argument itself.

    And thank you for the kind words and the plugs.

    Eric Hines

  19. I’m not sure I see a principled problem with double-dipping. The man worked one career and now is working another–or completed that one, too. Why should he lose his accrued retirement payout from the first career just because he’s able to continue working and desires to do so? Why should he not collect two retirement payouts after having earned them from two careers?

    The fiscal problems are apparent, especially regarding defined benefit things like pensions and social security, both of which seemed like good ideas in real time, but now can be seen as suboptimal, if not failures. But the fiscal difficulties are separate from the concept.

    Eric Hines

  20. I don’t think that they’re doing anything wrong, either legally or morally. I just think that the incentive structure of most defined benefit public employee pension plans are awful, and incentivize people to either stay on the job when they could really do better elsewhere, or to quit early when their vesting peaks. The later incentive results in the scenario of being on a pension as “retired” but still working a different job full time.

    In my state of NY for example, you need to work for the State for 10 years before you vest any pension benefits. If you’ve been working as a police officer for 7 years then, you have a massive incentive not to quit until you’ve vested, even if you’re jaded about the job and the public (and you) would be better off if you picked a different career.

    It’s possible to design a pension system that doesn’t have that problem. It would vest basically a dollar amount each year and annuitize it either immediately or on retirement. But basically no state uses such a system, because (from the state’s perspective) it’s impossible to underfund without immediately screwing your employees, and from the employees’ perspective, it’s impossible to get bigger future benefits without the state immediately seeing it on the bottom line.

  21. I agree it’s not a parity situation; to me it seemed that you were the one suggesting it is. I took your comment to be a complaint about the unfairness of judges being regularly exposed to law enforcement officials, but not criminal defendants, in non-courtroom settings, creating disproportionate opportunities for positive impressions to develop. Well, ok, would you want the judges sentencing your clients to spend a lot more time with the average federal defendant outside of court? Wouldn’t that be a solution to this problem?

    As you acknowledge (I think, since your response wants to have it both ways in successive paragraphs), the answer is no. Your clients would not, typically, impress judges with their honesty and uprightness if the judge got a chance to see them daily outside of court (where they are likely on their best ever behavior, in any event) This suggests, to me, that the reasons why judges are inclined to believe cops over defendants, all else being equal, are quite rational ones.

  22. I think that makes sense. I certainly don’t think law enforcement officials are saints or immune from misconduct, but I also tire of the internet-defense-bar pose that they’re basically indistinguishable from criminals. Of course, the people saying this don’t actually believe it (if it were true, we’d be living in a dystopian nightmare). So to me, complaining that you spend too much time talking to CSOs and are therefore biased in favor of law enforcement is a cheap debater’s point, if it’s not accompanied by a desire to let you have similar interactions with those on the other side of the equation.

  23. Pingback: Tidbits About A Judge | Simple Justice

  24. Jay, there are two separate points here, I think. One, which shg makes, is that simply spending time with a random selection of non-law enforcement human being would not bring parity to a judge’s view of humanity. This is unassailable, because as Judge Kopf has pointed out, we like those we work with better than random other people, and (although he didn’t make the point explicitly) are more inclined to believe those who resemble those we like. Taking a cheap shot at shg for pointing this out is unworthy of debate: you could have understood his meaning from his comment but chose not to. There are not simply two sides, Criminal and Law enforcement; the opposite of law enforcement isn’t criminal but civilian. Now, if we could get you, Judge Kopf and the entire Supreme Court to spend 6 months living in Corona or Watts or Harlem, that might be a useful thing. But that’s not on offer.

    The second point, coming from the viewpoint of someone (me) who spent two plus years as a LEO, and has been in court as a victim, a defendant and a witness, is that if you don’t understand that the vast bulk of the testimony you hear from law enforcement is very carefully prepared to slide over the contestable facts, and that every court that I am aware of is not only aware of this but actively seeks to prevent the defense from exposing it, you are very very naive. Just the most cursory examination of officer’s testimony will reveal splicing, dicing and mixing (dropsy, odor on breath, canine alert, eyewitness testimony are a few that spring to mind), and almost never is the defense allowed to press to find out what “really” happened.

    Believing that the current system has major problems (Anyone seen my 4th Amendment lately?) doesn’t mean that we believe we live in a dystopian nightmare: that’s your straw man. It does mean that we don’t believe that the way things are now is great.

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