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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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