Courtesy of CT-N
Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT – Judicial Branch officials told legislators Tuesday the agency is seeking a $5.5 million budget increase after a bloody quadruple shooting outside a Bridgeport courthouse two weeks ago left judges, employees, victims and the public concerned for their safety.

Chief Justice Richard Robinson and Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll walked into the Bridgeport criminal courthouse about an hour after the shooting to find a “bloody lobby” and “fear etched on the faces” of those inside, according to Carroll.

“I promised all of them at that time that I’d do whatever I had to do to ensure their safety,” Carroll said.

The Judicial Branch asked the Appropriations Committee Tuesday to find $5.5 million for security improvements and an additional $1.8 million to train more marshals. Carroll is also asking the legislature to put back the $2 million that was cut as part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget adjustment. He also wants $2 million in bonding for security upgrades to older courthouses.

Carroll said the Judicial Branch will be operating with $9 million less than what was requested for the 2021 fiscal year.

Judicial officials are looking to use the bulk of the additional funding to hire state and municipal police to maintain a presence outside of all courthouses across the state, Carroll said. “One officer and one cruiser” would be outside each courthouse daily during business hours, he said.

“Had that been in place in Bridgeport I’m confident that deterrent effect of having a police officer there would have prevented that shooting which took place right outside the main entrance,” Carroll said.

The target of the shooting had just left his court appearance and went outside to wait for his ride when a car pulled up and started shooting, Carroll said. Judicial marshals got the injured inside and locked the courthouse doors.

The $2 million in bonding would be used to upgrade exterior security in older courthouses which tend to have easy access to the street or the highway, which was why the suspects were so easily able to find their target, Carroll said.

Employees of the Golden Street courthouse whose windows face the street in the building which rests on a hill are “quietly concerned,” he said. They want bulletproof glass since anyone who is shooting in the area must shoot uphill to hit an intended target, Carroll said.

“Your concern for really solid exterior security is very pronounced,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, who suggested that the money might be more available in increments.

“Anything is better than nothing,” Carroll said. “We can identify the courthouses with the greatest need” and work from there, he said.

Courthouse security has been an issue in recent years as the Judicial Branch struggles to maintain a staffing level of 850 marshals, which the agency says is needed to ensure safety.

Currently there are 672 trained marshals despite recruitment efforts and several classes of trainees which have graduated in the past year, Carroll said. More will be eligible to retire by 2022, he said.

Their job has been more complicated as federal Immigration agents are engaging in activities – often without notice – within the state’s courthouses, Carroll said. By state law, the marshals are not allowed to cooperate with ICE agents, Carroll said. “This occasionally results in a dangerous public safety issue inside our courthouses when ICE agents are engaged in the apprehension of individuals.”

He’s hoping to use the $1.8 million to increase the number of trainees and training classes from five to six in the next year. Supervisors are now covering critical posts such as entry screening and courtroom assignments due to the lack of marshals, he said.

Even with the five classes of marshals coming online in 2019, the Judicial Branch has only seen an increase of 13 marshals since this time last year, Carroll said.

Carroll is also hoping to recoup the $2 million that was cut by Lamont even as the governor offered the Judicial Branch $3.5 million as part of a restructuring of the inmate phone system fees. The state has been charging families of those who are incarcerated 68 percent above the cost of the calls with the money going to pay for probation officers for years.

After an outcry during the last legislative session, Lamont agreed last week to give the Judicial Branch $3.5 million to pay for 32 probation officers to help reduce the cost of the calls made by families to their loved ones in prison. But Lamont also cut $2 million from the Judicial Branch budget – leaving a net gain of only $1.5 million.

Lamont’s latest budget adjustment leaves the branch with $547.1 million for fiscal year 2021.