There was no wait at the Clark County Courthouse’s front entrance shortly after its doors were unlocked Friday morning. On busier days, a line of people can stretch down the steps to the sidewalk along Franklin Street.
Small groups milled around the lobby. Three people stood at the public information desk just beyond the courthouse’s metal detector, asking where to go.
A volunteer at the information desk directed the lost souls. Robert G. “Bob” Weller, who has volunteered at the desk for two decades, said there are things that courthouse visitors need to know to avoid a hassle.
“The main problem always seems to be anything that will cut,” said 80-year-old Weller. “That can include a manicure set. There are a lot of blue collar guys coming in with knives. Any kind of metal can set off the detectors, even enhanced drivers’ licenses.”
All visitors are required to pass through one of the two checkpoints at the courthouse.
Here’s what the courthouse rules say: No aerosols, weapons or sharp objects, including scissors, silverware, knitting needles, pocket knives or nail clippers are permitted.
“If you have an item which is not allowed, you will need to take the item back to your vehicle; otherwise, it will be confiscated upon entry,” the courthouse warns on its website. Confiscated items are not returned.
Just earlier this week, a woman stood in line for a not insignificant amount of time while a security guard fished for a fork in her purse. She did not get it back.
Knives have been among the most confiscated items so far this year, according to data provided by G4S Secure Solutions, the private security company that the Clark County Sheriff’s Office hires to serve the courthouse. From January to July, guards took 346 knives from visitors. That’s a lot of knives, but it should be noted that more than 267,000 bags of personal belongings have passed through two X-ray scanners over the same period of time, according to the data.
The largest category of confiscated items is “tools/miscellaneous,” which totaled 928, according to the data.
Weller said he has never seen anyone coming through security checkpoints become violent. People who aren’t used to the procedure can get aggravated; others stomp off and don’t come back.
“I’ve seen some people who appeared to be under the influence; they’re usually just told to leave,” he said.
Clark County sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Brent Waddell said that if a person is especially unruly, deputies will step in and remove them from the courthouse. He was unaware of anyone being taken into custody at security, but said it’s probably happened. That doesn’t include people coming in to court who have warrants, are spotted by deputies and cuffed.
Weller, who volunteers at the courthouse through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, said he spends 70 percent of his time directing visitors to courtrooms, or the correct window to pay traffic fines. The remainder of his work goes into helping people get particular issues solved, but sometimes, they’re in the wrong building, he said.
Property and tax issues are handled at the Clark County Public Service Center, across West 13th Street from the courthouse. Marriage licenses are handled there, too.
“Other people come in here with multiple issues, some of which can’t be addressed. There are even more that come in and think they can get legal counseling on any number of issues. A lot of people come in to deal with property and taxes, and they get sent right next door. Most of them are stressed out,” he said.
More information the courthouse, taxes and marriage licenses can be found at clark.wa.gov.