Guns in court: Local judges, lawyers say Ohio shooting example of why they carry

11:47 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 Local News
Leroy Cardwell, a Court Services deputy with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, checks the security screening station as visitors enter Butler County Common Pleas Court Thursday, Aug. 24 at the Government Services Building on High Street in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Ohio judge shot by a gunman last week whule walking from his car into the county courthouse hit home for those working in criminal justice centers in Butler and Warren counties.

Jefferson County Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr. managed to fire back before a probation officer stepped in and ultimately killed the suspect, authorities said.

Bruzzese was hit by gunfire, but is recovering.

Lawyers and judges in Butler and Warren counties said threats against them aren’t uncommon given the number of cases they hear and the sometimes passionate nature of those cases.

Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II was clear about the precautions he takes in court.

“It is very disconcerting when you hear about something like what happened in Steubenville,” he said. “It is a reminder how dangerous our work can be.”

Oda, who said he has a CCW, has a secure gun safe in his office and keeps a loaded handgun in his chambers.

“In the 12 years I have been a judge, I have received my share of threats. One of them several years ago was serious enough to carry a weapon with me everywhere I went for over three months,” Oda said.

“I am not sure carrying a firearm actually makes me any safer. It does make me feel safer, sometimes, though,” he said. “I always have believed that the biggest threats out there are the ones you never see coming.”

Melynda Cook Howard, Middletown’s Municipal Court judge, said she immediately started carrying a weapon after the Steubenville violence.

“That was a direct assault on law and justice,” she said of the shooting.

Both Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said they are armed on and off the job.

Gmoser agreed the county and the sheriff’s office do a good job with court security, but “there’s only so much the police can do.”

The Butler County Prosecutor’s Office in on the top floor of the Government Services Center. It is not in the secure court wing, but Gmoser has taken extra security precautions.

“There are firearms at every door,” he said, declining to divulge specifics.

Jones said there has been an escalation of hate for those in the criminal justice system in the past several years “and it will get worse before it gets better.”

“My advise to anyone in the criminal justice system, you should have a conceal carry, you should carry it and be proficient with it,” he said.

Attorney David Washington, who often defends high profile clients including some death penalty cases, walks from his Hamilton office to the Government Services Center daily.

“Of course I carry a gun,” Washington said.

Middletown attorney Paris Ellis said he wonders what impact social media may have on the issue.

If a shooting like what happened in Steubenville occurred 30 years ago, it wouldn’t have been an instant national story, he said.

“It causes panic,” said Ellis, who has practiced law for 37 years.

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