In what is being considered the first step toward major safety upgrades at Southold Town Justice Court, the town began using a metal detector Monday to screen people entering the courtroom.
The $4,500 cost of the equipment was funded entirely through grant money, pursued by a town committee formed to devise short- and long-term solutions to the court’s security shortfalls.
“It’s not ideal but it is better than what we had before, which was nothing,” said Jill Doherty, who serves as the committee’s liaison to the Town Board along with Councilman Jim Dinizio.
Long-term safety fixes, like moving the court to a location outside the Town Hall building, are also in the works. Ms. Doherty said the committee hopes to have recommendations for the board within the next couple of months.
The courtroom doubles as a meeting room when court isn’t in session. A recently settled lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County against Southold Town and several other East End municipalities alleged that the courtroom lacked adequate conference space where attorneys could meet privately with clients.
As part of a settlement agreement with Legal Aid Society, which filed the suit in February, the town has agreed to create a conference space across the hall from the courtroom, next to the tax receiver’s office. Construction, which got underway Monday, is expected to be completed in a few days, Mr. Russell said. He declined to provide further details, citing the litigation.
On March 18, the Riverhead Town Board voted to authorize a similar settlement, agreeing to construct a secure conference room in its court building for attorney/client conferences.
“There would be a telephone so that attorneys could speak to their clients, who would be in a little booth,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.