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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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