Although judges had decried the safety hazards of a Salt Lake courthouse for years, it took the murder of an attorney and wounding of a bailiff by an escaped inmate to initiate security changes.
Instead of responding after a tragedy has occurred, the courts should avoid crisis by identifying problems and implementing change, Cheryll May told members of the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century on Friday. The commission, part of the Doing Utah Justice project, is charged with forging policies to guide the justice system's future. May is project director."It would not have been a great comfort to the family and friends of the attorney killed to say, `You've done a great service. You've helped us improve security in the courts,' " said May.
On April 2, 1985, Ronnie Lee Gardner was being escorted by prison guards in the basement of the Metropolitan Hall of Justice when a woman slipped a gun to him. Gardner turned and pointed the weapon at the prison guards. One of the guards shot Gardner. The guards retreated to the parking lot, calling for assistance.
Wounded, Gardner walked into a small room next to the elevators and confronted two attorneys - Michael Burdell and Bob Macri. Gardner first pointed his gun at Macri, then, for no apparent reason, turned his aim to Burdell and shot him in the head.
Burdell, 38, was pronounced dead an hour after the shooting.
When bailiff George N. Kirk heard a man had a gun, he ran down the stair case to the first floor. When he entered the foyer, Gardner shot Kirk.
At that time, Salt Lake County Sheriff N.D. Hayward complained bitterly that the public had unrestricted access to the area where the shooting occurred.
Following the murder, outcry by judges, attorneys and the public finally brought about security improvements - metal detectors, controlled entrances, more guards - in the courthouse. However, proper security still eludes many of Utah's courts.
"Planning can do more than avoid crisis; it can actually create the future," said May. "It involves much more than identifying trends."
"Strategic planning" is the buzzword spoken by leaders in the '90s, describing the process of acting rather than reacting to avert tragedies such as Burdell's murder.
Government and business consultant Jon M. Memmott advised the justice commission Friday that strategic planning does not mean merely increasing efficiency.
"You can be doing the wrong things efficiently. This commission needs to examine, through surveys of judges, attorneys, policymakers and the public, the question: Are we doing the right things to provide justice?" Memmott said.
During April, Dan Jones and Associates will be polling 600 Utahns to determine the public's perceptions of the justice system. The information will serve as a foundation for Justice Commission members as they scrutinize Utah's legal system and propose change.