Some of the strangest things turn up when bailiffs search visitors to 3rd District and Circuit courts in Salt Lake City.

They'll tell you about the woman with the 5-inch-long survival knife in her waistband. She said she forgot it was there.Or how about the two attorneys with drugs in their briefcases? They said the cocaine belonged to their clients.

Then there was the woman with the .25-caliber automatic handgun. She wouldn't say why she had a loaded weapon in her purse.

People come to court with a variety of items in their pockets and purses. It is the job of the bailiffs to make sure nothing lethal gets inside.

"We take anything that could be used as a weapon," said Salt Lake County Deputy Harry Wilenski. "Giant safety pins, knitting needles, big hair pins, screwdrivers, glass bottles . . . anything that can disrupt the proceedings."

Humor can be the key to defusing a disagreeable situation, said Deputy Randy Lish.

"Did you bring us any lunch today?" he asked once while searching a woman's fanny pack. "Got any doughnuts in there?

"Some women get really upset when you search their purses," the deputy explained. "But tell them you're looking for Twinkies and Ding Dongs and they laugh and no one's offended."

"The public is inconvenienced, but it's a job that must be done," said Sgt. Mike Wardle, who oversees the 31 bailiffs assigned to the downtown courts.

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Local court security became a top priority after a bloody escape attempt by Ronnie Lee Gardner in April 1985. Gardner's girlfriend slipped him a pistol while guards were escorting him to a 3rd District hearing involving a murder.

Gardner shot and killed an attorney and wounded a bailiff before police shot and wounded him.

Since then, bailiffs hope the addition of metal detectors and X-ray machines make a repeat of such an incident unlikely.

Bailiffs have confiscated 98 knives, 33 guns, 183 bullets, 10 throwing stars, eight stun guns, eight brass knuckles, 14 pepper Mace canisters and three explosives since 1987, according to records.

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