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Shootings put safety on lawyers' radar

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On the morning of March 27, someone allegedly ambushed attorney David Kuker in his garage, shooting him twice before fleeing. On May 1, Jeffrey Goeglein called police to say that someone fired shots through a window in his home. Both men work at Faegre Baker Daniels’ Fort Wayne office – Kuker is a partner, and Goeglein is an associate. And police say the two shootings do not appear to be random.

As of May 17, police had made no arrest in either case.

Law firms generally have security measures to protect employees in the office. Outside of work, the best strategy for staying safe is using common sense, identifying potentially dangerous people and learning to trust your instincts.

Clients under duress

On June 23, 1989, a man shot his estranged wife to death before driving 20 miles to Warsaw, Ind., where he shot and killed his wife’s attorney, Charles Ireland, inside Ireland’s law office. It’s a tragic tale that’s repeated over and over again when volatile family disputes erupt.

Indiana State Police Capt. Dave Bursten said attorneys who handle family and criminal law may run a higher risk of an attack, simply based on the disputes they’re trying to resolve. And trials can stir feelings of resentment or cause people to act out.

“You’ve probably met the spouse of your client, and if you have indications that lead you to believe this person could have violent tendencies, that’s something you should let the court know before the trial so the bailiff could have extra security there,” Bursten said.

Sometimes, though, an attorney is completely unaware of a potential danger.
 

deLaney-ed-mug.jpg DeLaney

In 2009, a man lured Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, to the site of an alleged real estate transaction and attacked him. DeLaney, a real estate lawyer, had no reason to suspect anyone might be targeting him, and he didn’t recognize his attacker, Augustus Mendenhall. Mendenhall had been harboring a grudge against DeLaney for more than two decades, believing that the lawyer was responsible for his family’s financial problems after DeLaney represented a mall in a lawsuit against his father’s business.

“What bothered me then is that my dealings with his father were so remote – that’s the concern I have … you don’t know who is festering, who is angry, who is hurt and doesn’t know how to accept it,” DeLaney said. “In the course of litigation, you can detect that some people are handling it very badly. The problem is that there are those that don’t show it.”

The role of the firm

Law firms can and do take steps to protect employees from dangerous people.

Sabrina Presnell Rockoff, a lawyer with McGuire Wood & Bissette in North Carolina, has advised several corporations on internal human resource policies and employee relations. She said one of the most basic safety measures for a law firm is ensuring that all guests access the office through one central location.

“Our office, anyone can walk in at any time … any time you have a public place like that, having a centralized area where the public is received is important, and having the rest of the office protected from that centralized area – whether that be by key cards, doors, people having to have a security card or badge to get past – I think is a great way to protect employees,” she said.

The receptionist or person who greets guests should be trained on what to do if a threatening person enters the building, she said. And if the firm has recently fired a hostile employee or won a large jury verdict, managers can put the firm on alert and ask the receptionist to be on the lookout for particular people.


Weinzapfel Weinzapfel

“You need to make sure they have enough information to make sure they can take quick action to protect the rest of the workforce,” Rockoff said.

Law firms are concerned about protecting files, and Rockoff said that in securing access to files, firms can also protect workers. She cited as an example a firm where she worked that had all conference rooms on one floor. Guests could not access the lawyers’ offices or other parts of the building without a key card.

“That does two things – it protects the files and it protects the information, and it also has the effect of protecting employees,” Rockoff said.

Kerrie Weinzapfel, firm administrator for Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn, in Evansville, said the firm advises attorneys to meet with clients in conference rooms instead of their office.

“For some practice areas, where emotions may run high, we encourage the use of conference rooms on the main floor of our office so that we can keep the client in a relatively public location and the location of the attorney’s office confidential,” she said.

Rockoff said she has handled some messy employment law cases that have caused her to move the location of a deposition.
safety factbox
“Something that I have done before where I had a really disgruntled plaintiff employee is hold the deposition at the courthouse so they have to go through the metal detector,” she said.

Asking for help

Weinzapfel said the firm does take threats seriously and has on occasion hired security guards when it believed additional precautions were necessary. If firm managers believe someone may be targeting them, Rockoff said, they can ask for increased police patrols in their area.

Boone County Sheriff Ken Campbell spoke to judges about courthouse security and courtroom safety at the Spring Judicial College in April.

“Certainly if you’re a judge or a lawyer, many of the people you come in contact with are of a group that may be more reactive, or they wouldn’t be involved in the legal system,” he said.

Campbell said judges should get to know their local sheriff and ask for help if they have any concerns about a person becoming violent.

“Establish that relationship with your sheriff, with your bailiff, with court security – and the same goes for lawyers,” he said.

Bursten said if someone does threaten an attorney, the attorney needs to point out that threatening an act of violence is illegal.

“If that doesn’t reset the person’s mainframe by – in a polite way – saying you’re committing a criminal act by what you just said, then maybe the best thing to do is to follow it through with legal action,” Bursten said.

Being alert

Campbell said that he often sees people walking down the street in what he calls “condition white” – completely unaware of what’s going on around them, staring at their smartphones.

“We’re bipeds – you need to walk with your head up and looking around,” he said.

He also said that people need to trust their instincts and recognize that when they feel something isn’t right, or the hair on the back of their neck stands up, that message should not be ignored.

“It’s your brain that’s basing this feeling on all your life experiences … your brain is telling you something; you’re just not always smart enough to recognize it,” he said.•

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  • rkba
    And some lawyers exercise their constitutional rights to keep and bear arms too. Something for miscreants to consider.

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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith .. http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2013/09/prof-alan-dershowitz-on-indiana.html

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

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