Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Preventable" Lawyer Shooting Results In Cries For Improved Court Security

by Christine Stuart

A group of legislators inspired by the tragic shooting of a Waterbury divorce lawyer will ask for $10 million to improve security in state courthouses.

Julie Porzio was shot in 2005 when a client’s estranged husband shot her and her client outside the Middletown courthouse in a nearby city-owned parking garage.

Appearing at a press conference Tuesday, Porzio said the shooting was “preventable.” She said “there were so many warning signs” that retired state police officer, Michael Bochicchio Jr. posed a threat to both her and her client. She said she doesn’t know why judicial marshals didn’t warn her Bochicchio was dangerous.

Porzio’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said Bochicchio tried to identify himself as a police officer and bring a loaded gun into the courthouse at one point during the divorce proceedings. If Bochicchio were an active duty police officer he would have been able to bring a loaded gun into a state courthouse and if he were an undercover officer he would have been able to conceal it.

Tacopina said judicial marshals knew he tried to bring the weapon into court, but didn’t say anything to Porzio or her client. “This is what happens when we’re lax,” he said.

He conceded that “We can have all the laws we want on the books, but it means nothing if they’re not enforced.” He said had they known they would have asked for a mental examination. Bochicchio shot himself after he shot his wife Donna and Porzio, the lone survivor.

Senator Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, said the legislation named “Julie’s bill” is meant to jumpstart the conversation. She said the $10 million price tag for an evaluation of court security, installation of security systems, and training for marshals needs to be “vetted.” Court security systems were beefed up with a $3 million allocation a few years ago, but a number of judicial marshal positions were eliminated and they haven’t had a salary increase for about five years.

Hartley said at the moment the system is about 100 marshals short.

She said to be fully effective the state has to evaluate court security at all levels. But she admitted that, “at the end of the day we’re not going to be able to rule out every single circumstance.”

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee has agreed to raise the bill for a public hearing. It’s unlikely, even an issue as important as court security, will be on the backburner with a budget deficit of $500 to $800 million looming in the next fiscal year. In addition the state’s spending cap is at its lowest level, 3.2 percent, in the past 16 years.

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