N.M. Courthouse Seeking Security Upgrade

Dec. 11--Bernalillo County District Court will get a lobby remodel, possibly by spring, to improve court security.

The plan to alter the entry area of the 2nd Judicial District courthouse was under way long before the fatal shooting of John Hevener, but the alterations are one factor among many that might help prevent a similar encounter.

Hevener, 41, was a party in a domestic violence hearing who brought a knife into the courthouse just before Thanksgiving and was shot by officers assigned to security during a confrontation in the court clinic area.

"Everything's done to maximize security and deterrent and minimize danger, so to that extent, yes, we hope it will decrease the likelihood of another untoward event," said Chief Judge William F. Lang.

District Court administrator Juanita Duran said the 2006 Legislature appropriated $1 million for improvements to court security statewide. The Bernalillo County court got $200,000 of that, which will be used for design and construction costs.

The courthouse building is owned by the county, so Duran and Ken Bozell, a retired sheriff's officer who heads courthouse security, are hoping to piggyback onto the county's existing contracts with design firms and building contractors to speed the process.

"Basically, we want something similar to Metro (court)," Bozell said.

The Metro Court building has high partitions that make it nearly impossible to pass items through or bypass screening.

The district courthouse, in contrast, was designed and built before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We have to work with the space we've got," Bozell said.

That means rearranging a lobby rotunda flanked by open stairways so courthouse visitors can move through screening more quickly. The other goal is to position a reception/visitor information booth in the same area.

It's not uncommon, Bozell said, to have people go through the security screening and wander down the halls looking for their courtroom, only to discover they're in the wrong courthouse.

Three courthouses -- Metro, District and Federal -- are clustered at the corner of Fourth and Lomas NW.

The information desk with a glass partition, much like the ticket booth at a movie theater, will be constructed in the center front lobby to direct visitors and avoid that problem.

Bozell said there are no initial plans to purchase more Xray machines or magnetometers.

But officials do hope to place one or more computer screens in the lobby to direct parties to litigation to the correct judge, courtroom and floor.

The district court has 24 judges; all but the children's court judges are housed in the building at Fourth and Lomas. Juvenile court judges are housed at a complex on Second Street NW.

Although the $200,000 may not cover all the costs of the remodel, Duran said the district court did well to get such a significant amount. After the shooting, Duran said, she heard from other jurisdictions, most of which have much less security than in Albuquerque.

Copyright (c) 2006, Albuquerque Journal, N.M. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.