Denver Bar Association
April 2013
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Good Guys with Guns: New Rule Allows Judges to Carry Firearms

by Craig Eley

 

I

 

t did not go unnoticed in some quarters last year when a Lumpkin County, Ga., Superior Court judge pulled a pistol out of his robe during a trial and told a complaining witness: "You are killing your case. You might as well shoot your lawyer."

The lawyer in question, the district attorney, took some umbrage at this suggestion, and asked the judge to put the gun away. No one believed the judge actually wanted the DA shot (at least not in his courtroom) — many thought the judge was merely making a point to the witness that the arc of her testimony was deficient and needed to change (lawyers love judges who do this almost as much as they love judges who suggest that lawyers be shot).

To be fair, the judge’s quoted words come from the recollection of some of those who were in the courtroom. The actual utterances of the judge would no doubt have been established at a hearing into his conduct, but such did not occur because the judge resigned shortly after the episode, explaining that he did not want his family to have to go through the ordeal of an investigation by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and possible protests from the public. Apparently, in Georgia a judge’s surly teenaged children can be made to appear before the tribunal to give their candid opinions of their dad. How many of us would be able to survive a trial like that?

The larger point, however, is that the judge violated no law. Georgia allows judges to carry concealed weapons in their courtrooms. They just have to be careful about how and when they brandish them.

When the Colorado Select Committee on Judicial Security (which consists of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed by various judicial and legislative factotums) heard of the Georgia unpleasantness, it sparked a discussion on the subject of Colorado judges being able to defend themselves. While some on the committee, depending on their political persuasion, hinted that they might be in favor of certain judges not being able to defend themselves, most of them were brought around by financial considerations. For example, if a disgruntled party smuggles a gun into a courtroom and shoots a judge, the state will be liable for significant workers’ compensation costs, or worse. But if the judge gets the drop on the party and blows him or her away, the state actually saves money — no cost of prosecution, prison meals, or probation.

A few holdouts, who were against judges being granted additional power of any kind, kept the committee in a stalemate until a few months ago when National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre declared, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." These words from the supreme source of gun wisdom and political contributions brought the remaining recalcitrants into line.

Thus, the committee has drafted a rule that allows every judge to carry a concealed weapon. Because a judge can be stalked both inside and outside the courthouse, the rule allows a judge to carry a gun anywhere and at any time. The rule has been adopted by the Colorado Supreme Court and bears an effective date of April 1.

The state judicial branch has determined that, for liability purposes, all judges should carry the same type of gun. This would also simplify training, repair, and ammunition purchases. But rather than force judges to give up what may be their preferred weapons, the branch has decided to provide the handguns free of charge as an incentive for judges to use them.

As the branch investigated the most appropriate gun to purchase, it was predictable that a pistol called "the Judge" would jump to the front of the pack. This revolver got its name when it became the preferred peacemaker for Miami judges to keep in court and, more important, to carry on that perilous journey from the courthouse to the parking lot.

What is unique about the Judge is that is can be loaded with either .45 caliber bullets, .410 shotgun shells, or a combination of both. Therefore, depending on the requirements of the moment, the firearm can propel a single slug of lead or a wider scattering of shot from its barrel. Obviously, for courtroom use, the .45 projectile would be preferred to limit collateral damage to jurors and other non-combatants. When accosted at the light rail station, however, the shotgun shell should send three or four thugs running for the first train out of the area without even stopping to buy tickets.

The judicial branch has negotiated a discounted deal for the hundreds of guns needed to arm all of Colorado’s judges. By the end of summer, they should be delivered and in the hands of the judiciary.

Each judge will be able to exercise a limited choice of gun style from the three models in the Judge line of weapons: the Raging Judge, the Public Defender, and the Circuit Judge (personally, I think the manufacturer missed the boat by not offering a model called The Justice of The Piece, but no one asked me).

Due to the dire condition of the state budget, the purchase of the handguns, training, and ammunition cannot be covered by judicial department funds. Therefore, the new rule provides that the Colorado attorney registration fee will be increased by $52 for each of the next five years. After five years, the success and expense of the program will be assessed. D

 

Craig Eley is an administrative law judge for the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation, who is hoping for a free gun. He may be reached at craig.eley@state.co.us.


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