Sunday, July 15, 2012

Beltless at the Dakota County Courthouse

“Trust, but verify,” Ronald Reagan supposedly told Mikhail Gorbachev upon signing a missile treaty in the waning days of the Cold War.

It’s a curious phrase. The more a party feels it necessary to verify, the more it would seem to undermine trust. After all, if there really is trust, there is no need to verify.

That’s why people in close-knit communities leave their doors open and their cars unlocked. They don’t feel compelled to review surveillance tape upon returning home to verify that their trust was well founded.

What happens, however, when the size of a community grows sufficiently large that the instinctive trust of a smaller community is no longer present?

Well, then you would have — to take one example — the Dakota County courthouse in Hastings. As the Star Tribune reported last December, the country board insists that attorneys remove their belts and go throw security every time they visit the courthouse.

Members of the bar pressed the board for an exemption from the belts-off rule late last year. In other metro counties, they pointed out, attorneys are regularly allowed to bypass airport-type security procedures.

In addition, as attorney Paul Rogosheske contended, attorneys are already screened for character and moral fitness by the bar admission process.

The Dakota County Board was completely unmoved by these arguments. Instead, the board reaffirmed its support for continuing to require attorneys to go through the same security screening as everyone else.

During the board hearing, a commander from the sheriff’s office, John Grant, displayed a shiv (a piece of sharpened plastic). “This will kill you, just like anything else,” he said ominously.

Similarly, one of the county commissioners, Liz Workman, flatly told the lawyers that the courthouse was like the airport. So they should get used to removing their belts and going through the whole-nine-yards security procedure.

There is an obvious problem, however, with the airport analogy. Airlines offer expedited check-in programs for their frequent flyers. It’s a pity that Dakota County can’t do the same for its frequent courthouse-flyers, namely attorneys.

It’s a pity not because it’s such an inconvenience to remove your belt. It’s a pity because using more verification than is really needed tends to undercut trust.

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