In the wake of several headlines across the country -- "Accused rapist, wife take over courthouse," "Ex-Husband Opens Fire, Kills 3 at Alimony Hearing" "Former Policeman Shoots and Kills Judge, Lawyer in Chicago Courtroom" -- some courthouse employees are fearful of the ultimate work hazard as these made-for-the-movies dramas have come too close to reality.

At the Fairfax County Judicial Center, several employees met recently to express their fears about the possibility of someone walking into the five-story courthouse with a weapon and a target.

The courthouse, considered the busiest and largest in the state, does not have metal detectors. The 2,000 people who come into the courthouse everyday are not searched, unless in extreme cases, and there is no equipment that would detect and halt someone carrying a gun. Sheriff's deputies, some in plain clothes, patrol the courthouse scouring for weapons and suspicious-looking people.

Although the Fairfax Judicial Center has had no severe acts of violence, some workers say they think it's only a matter of time before something happens and someone gets hurt.

"There is a whole history of incidents throughout the United States of violence and death in courthouses," said Capt. Robert Frey, chief of court security and services division of the Fairfax sheriff's office.

"I think it's unfortunate that we don't have them {magnetometers} and I'm sure when the first body hits the floor, we will have them because historically this has been the case throughout the United States -- that after an incident has happened, whether it's death or injury, whatever courthouse was involved did get magnetometers."

The issue of the installation of magnetometers in the Judicial Center, which houses General District and Circuit Court, has prompted a debate on metal detectors versus free access to that courthouse. Across the parking lot, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court installed metal detectors a year ago.

Some employees questioned why that court has metal detectors when the larger Judicial Center does not. In July, 62 Circuit and General District courthouse employees met to talk about security and safety. One employee explained how she had been in an elevator 10 minutes before someone violently sliced the elevator's padding.

"If I were in that elevator it could have been me," said the employee, who did not want to be identified.

Another court employee had been followed. And a third told a story of a man who pretended he was different personalities. Then there is the woman who says she's a messenger from God and that she has within her all the criminals in the county. She files papers daily in the civil section explaining her theory. The clerks there call them "the good and evil filings."

Courthouse officials say the reason the Judicial Center does not have metal detectors goes back to1986, when then-Chief Circuit Court Judge Barnard F. Jennings argued that the Judicial Center should have freedom of movement and that a magnetometer system would create "a barricade-type situation."

Since then, the sheriff's department has had problems getting approval from the county for the installation of metal detectors because the county has required the sheriff's department, the judges and the Fairfax Bar Association to reach a consensus on the issue, Sheriff Carl Peed said.

"I don't believe the bar or the courts will support it," Peed said. "The prior chief judge was pleased with the security arrangements. He liked the security we provided here. The bar fears it might create a slowdown of people coming into or out of the courthouse. There is a huge parking problem here. Attorneys have to drive around then run to the courtroom.

"We have put it in our budget in the past. It's always kicked out by {the state's budget office} or the county."

Although Peed said metal detectors would enhance courthouse security, he did not think the Judicial Center was designed to accommodate them because there are four entrances. With recent state budget cuts, Peed said, it is unlikely the courthouse will be able to obtain magnetometers, which cost about $5,000 each plus about $200,000 yearly for employees to operate.

Chief Judge Richard J. Jamborsky said judges in the past may not have wanted metal detectors, but he said he would support the sheriff's position.

"If the judges had a statement from the sheriff saying that security of the building demands metal protectors, the judges would agree to it," Jamborsky said. "The judges do not want the final say so. Judges don't have the expertise in matters of security."

Fairfax Bar Association President Peter D. Greenspun said the bar does not have a formal position on the issue of courthouse security.

"I think there are concerns that have been expressed in the past about access to the courthouse," Greenspun said. "Attorneys have expressed concern at other facilities about the time it takes to get into the courthouse and that some people would be prohibited from coming into the courthouse and being searched."

There has not been a recent meeting between the factions to discuss the positions. However, as part of the recent expansion at the Judicial Center, courthouse security is being reviewed, said Lt. J.A. Vickery, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

Magnetometers were installed in family court in August 1989. The former chief judge of that court, Michael J. Valentine, argued that the metal detectors were essential for security.

So far this year, deputies in family court have confiscated: 2,615 knives, 151 cans of Mace, 247 scissors, 98 razors and other deadly objects including ice picks, blackjacks, screwdrivers, syringes and stun guns, Frey said.

Some weapons have been confiscated at the Judicial Center, Vickery said, although he did not have numbers. Last week a deputy spotted a gun that looked like a semiautomatic in a defendant's briefcase.

Frey said that although domestic relations cases are considered the most violent, he has been concerned about victims of criminal cases and others at the Judicial Center.

"Put yourself in their situation, in a child abuse case or a rape case, when they actually see this person in front of them, especially at the time of the verdict if they don't feel they are getting their just due," he said. "And again their is no way to protect these people in the Judicial Center."

Frey told about an incident in June in Hamlin, W.Va., in which a woman allegedly pulled a gun from her purse in a packed courtroom and fired at her daughter's accused slayer.

"I have a book of incidents {across the United States} and it's probably two to three inches thick," Frey said. "We're dealing with thousands and thousands of cases. I'm not just talking about criminal cases, but domestic relations cases and lawsuits. You never know what someone is going to do when they lose millions of dollars in a lawsuit. As far as they may be concerned, their life may be over.

"We know that at least 2,000 people come into this courthouse everyday. And if one of them is carrying a weapon or firearm, it's one too many."