Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Security and a Mystery Box

One would think security for federal judges would be tight. But before 911, it was lax. In fact when I first came to work for the Judge, I was shocked at the lack of security, especially since she was not in a court house. When 911 occurred, it was Friday morning before we got a call at chambers from the US Marshals asking if we were OK. My answer was - and what if we were not?

This was the time that court and chambers staff went through security training learning how to deal with the phone, access, and the mail. As her assistant, I was on the front line. I considered appling for hardship pay, but thought better of it. We had cameras that surveyed the outside of the building. And, cards beside every phone that gave us special "safety" answers to give to certain questions from unknown persons that sounded suspect.

As for the mail, obviously if a package was delivered that had wires hanging out of it or the address was done with cut-out letters from a magazine, there was an issue. But there were other signs: no return address, too much postage, a postal mark from an unfamiliar place, sloppy wrapping, and a list of smells.  

One morning in the US mail, a small square package arrived. The box was wrapped in brown paper and addressed to the Judge, however it did not have a return address. The postal stamp was from a town in Switzerland. Since the Judge was out of town,  I called her to inquire as to whether or not she was expecting such a package. She was as puzzled as we were.

Next call was to the US Marshals. After giving them a detailed description and answering several questions, they told me to place the package in the workroom and make sure no one messed with it. It was late in the afternoon, and since there were no ticking noises coming from the box or smells, the Marshals said they would be down first thing the next morning to take care of it. I called the Judge and told her what the Marshals had said, to make sure she knew not to open the package.

The next morning I came in and found the box had been opened. On the table in the work room was the open box and the remnants of, what looked like, the brown paper that had once wrapped the box. I went into the Judge's office and asked her if I missed the Marshals' visit. She gave me a puzzled look, "No, why?" "Well, I see that the mystery box was opened." "Oh, I opened that. It was some face cream I ordered."

"So you recognized it after all?" "No. But I wanted to see what was in the box." "So you opened it?" I didn't know if I was shocked or furious. "Did you realize it could have been a bomb and possibly could have killed you?" "Oh, I was very careful. I took the box to the back corner of the parking lot, so if it did explode there would not be a mess.

When the Marshals came I just showed them the open box. When they asked if I had opened it, I told them I had not. I added neither had a law clerk. Then one looked at me, "Please don't tell me the Judge opened it?" "Oh, but she was careful. She went to the back corner of the parking lot, so if it did explode there would not be a mess." Both just looked at me and shook their heads.

"Unbelievable," said one the them. "Oh, it's believable. Do you want to speak with her?" They both walked down the hall to her office. The Judge was as sweet and friendly as always. Neither one of them had it in them to say anything to her about the box. After they left, the Judge walked up to my desk. "They are just the nicest young men. I feel secure knowing they are looking after our safety," she said. All I could think was, "despite what you do."

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