CANTON, S.D. (AP) - Lincoln County's new presiding judge says he may move hearings to Sioux Falls if officials don't improve security at the courthouse.
Circuit Judge Brad Zell, who will take over his Lincoln County duties next month, said he's not willing to take any chances.
"If I feel court personnel and witnesses are in jeopardy, I will suspend hearings," Zell told the Argus Leader Tuesday. "If Lincoln County won't provide security, I would move proceedings where it is safe."
State's Attorney Tom Wollman and Sheriff Dennis Johnson will meet next week with county commissioners to discuss the issue.
Zell's request to improve security comes at a time when threats and attacks against court officials are in the media spotlight. In March, a rape suspect shot and killed a judge and court reporter inside a courtroom in Atlanta.
Zell said Lincoln County's 106-year-old courthouse was built when security wasn't a major concern. Visitors are not searched or scanned as they enter the building.
During some high-profile cases, the county has asked Canton police to man the doors and scan people as they enter the courtroom. But Zell said it can be difficult to tell which cases might spark an outbreak in which someone could be hurt.
The judge also said he is concerned that the courtroom has only one entrance.
"All it would take is one person and a whole slew of people could be held hostage - no way in and no way out," he said.
Wollman said he recalls several instances in which people become unruly in court and had to be restrained. He said security needs to be increased.
"I don't lie awake at night worrying about it, but it's certainly something that's in our minds, that there is no security screening," he said.
Wollman said moving hearings would be inconvenient and would mean added mileage expenses for his staff.
"I think we need to hold Lincoln County matters in Lincoln County," he said. "We need to retain our identity and hold our hearings here."
County commissioners had mixed reactions.
Commission Chairman Jim Schmidt said Lincoln County should consider courthouse security and added, "We're still living like this is Mayberry RFD."
Commissioner Burdell Coplan said the county has installed security cameras and a bulletproof barrier in front of the judge's bench. "I don't buy that we've done nothing," he said.