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Long lines from tightened security delay justice at D.C. Superior Court

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 12:03 AM

Enhanced security measures at D.C. Superior Court have created long lines of people trying to get inside the courthouse this week and have delayed some proceedings.

Jurors deciding the fate of Ingmar Guandique, who is charged with killing former federal intern Chandra Levy, were supposed to begin deliberations at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. But several were still in line at 10 a.m. Deliberations did not begin until about 10:20 a.m.

The line to get through the metal detectors this week has rivaled security checkpoints at Dulles International Airport on a Friday.

Hundreds of people stood in lines for 40 minutes or more to pass through the detectors and to be hand-wanded by security officers.

Leah Gurowitz, a spokeswoman for D.C. Superior Court, acknowledged the stepped-up security in a statement.

"As part of the Courts' on-going risk analyses, some gaps were discovered that are being addressed," the statement said. "While putting into service some new security screening equipment, certain security measures were enhanced and tightened. Our policy and our security focus remain the same: the safety and security of the thousands of people who work in and visit our court buildings each day."

Some regulars at the courthouse are concerned about justice being delayed.

Defense attorney Stephen Jackson paced outside the door, waiting for his client, who was supposed to be at the courthouse at 9 a.m. About 45 minutes later, the judge overseeing Jackson's case issued a warrant for his client's arrest for failing to appear. "He's in line. This is ridiculous," Jackson said.

A new head of security was hired recently and has installed a new security plan. And in a recent test of the security system dubbed "Operation Tick Tock," undercover officers were able to smuggle weapons into the courthouse, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

Prospective jurors have also been held up in the line. Lorraine Parham of Hillcrest and Stephanie Hampton of Southwest Washington were supposed to have checked in at the jury office at 10:30 a.m. The women reached the courthouse at 10 a.m., they said, but didn't get inside until an hour later.

"They should have separate entrances for jurors. If they want us to give up our time, they should at least make it accommodating," Parham said.

"What if it was raining or snowing outside and we had to wait in that line?" Hampton said.

The lines aren't long all day. It's worst at peak times, such as 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and during the lunch breaks between 1 and 2:30 p.m.

On Thursday, the lines outside the two main doors stretched onto Indiana Avenue. The side door that leads to a plaza usually has at most 20 or 30 people in line, and the wait is usually 10 minutes. But Thursday, a double line stretched across the plaza, just yards away from D.C. police headquarters. Supervisors are called to help reduce the line.

Lawyers, who previously only had to flash their identification cards to skip the metal detectors, must also submit to traditional security now. Prosecutors who carry their Justice Department identification badges also must undergo screening.

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