Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

1410 Posts and Counting

Shooting in the Court

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | September 20, 2018

No. 1,560

The shooting at the Magisterial District Judge’s Office in Masontown underlines the exceptional vulnerability of these venues.  Typically, an entire morning or afternoon of cases will be scheduled for one time and twenty or more people will be crowded into a small waiting room.  A shooter who plans to do so could easily kill all or most of them, since everyone would be at close range.

I’ve been to a few Magisterial Offices where the litigants are checked for weapons by a constable with a wand.  Most offices don’t, at least not until now.  It would not surprise me to see that situation changing abruptly. One or more constables are usually on hand when the court is in session.  It probably would not increase the operating cost of the court very much.

Some of the offices that currently do screening let people enter the waiting room freely and check them as they enter the court room.  That is not good enough.  As we saw at Masontown, the waiting room and even the corridor can be dangerous.  Screening should be performed at the front door.  Even that procedure is not foolproof, since the shooter could enter the building with a gun held under his coat and surprise the guard. If necessary, a higher level of security might be afforded by the glass enclosure installed in the doorway by some banks where each person is briefly locked inside until cleared to proceed.

Our experience since 2001 has proven that there are would-be terrorists who look for such opportunities and will plan a killing spree carefully.  We cannot afford to continue to provide such an attractive target, especially after its vulnerability has been demonstrated so clearly.

I am assuming that a full-sized screening station, complete with an x-ray to examine briefcases and bags, as they have at the County courthouses and the City Courts downtown, would be too expensive to provide and to staff in neighborhood magistrate offices.  But an armed constable with a wand and a panic button would be a step in the right direction.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

  • Recent Posts

  • Posts You Might Like

  • Subscribe to our feed