The historic Kennebec County courthouse is seen Wednesday at the corner of State and Winthrop streets in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Threats and other concerns about worker safety at the old Kennebec County courthouse, which houses the county’s district attorney and probate court offices, have prompted officials to hire a private security firm to screen all entrants into the building.

A security officer from a company county officials hired started Friday to monitor the entrance to the old courthouse on State Street. Prior to that, members of the public could come into the building through two unlocked entrances and wander around inside.

Now, anyone coming into the building is screened by a security officer, who has a metal-detecting wand to make sure no one is bringing any weapons in, and asked who they are and what they intend to do once inside. The county is also in the process of purchasing a metal detector, through which entrants into the building will pass to further ensure they are not carrying any weapons.

“We’re screening everyone who comes ins; we’re channeling everybody through the main door now,” County Administrator Scott Ferguson said Wednesday. “People, regardless of who they are, are being challenged, as to what their business is.”

The security measures were added (and more are under consideration) in response to requests from District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, Probate Judge Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell and staff who work in those two offices located in the 1829 building.

Security concerns include a recent threat made against Maloney herself.


Maloney said threats against her aren’t new and come with the job of being district attorney, but she is further concerned other staff could be targeted in the building, including the probate court.

She said also, sometime over a year ago, a DA’s office worker had to physically intervene with an irate visitor to probate court. The person refused to leave the building and a physical struggle ensued. She said “that should never happen” and all workers need to be safe from harm.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“It’s really a general concern of the world we live in. We want to make sure public employees, including employees working in the court system, are kept safe,” Maloney said of the request for more security at the building.

As part of a recent consultant’s study of security of the building, employees there were asked how safe they felt, on a scale of one to 10. Ferguson said most employees rated their own safety at about five on that scale.

“That doesn’t make for a good work environment,” Ferguson said of workers having concerns for their own safety in the building. “I don’t think anybody goes to work and wants to not feel safe. With any public building, we live in a day and age where this is going to become more and more of an issue. We’re here to serve the public. You just don’t know who is walking in and what their intentions might be.”

Judicial marshals at the adjacent new courthouse, the Capital Judicial Center, screen all entrants who also pass through a metal detector, and provide security throughout that newer building. The Capital Judicial Center is attached to the old courthouse by a skybridge walkway, but because the old courthouse is a county building, Ferguson said marshals can’t provide security there.


Maloney said she plans to bring the matter up in an upcoming meeting with judicial system officials.

“We’re going to be talking about that more, because our two buildings are connected, so their building isn’t fully secure unless ours is,” she said.

County officials intend to make the security screening at the old courthouse entrance permanent, and put out a request for proposals to provide that service, though there is no funding in the just-passed county budget for the additional security measures. He said the county budget committee asked county commissioners to come up with funding to pay for the measures from sources other than the budget funded by taxpayers.

Ferguson said the security upgrades including making the screener permanent will cost about $175,000 to $190,000. He said the county will pursue various potential funding avenues, including congressionally directed spending from the state’s federal legislative delegation.

Other additional security measures are also planned, including increased lighting and additional cameras.

Ferguson said the configuration of the old building was not designed for its current uses, so they’re trying to make the best they can with what they have.


Problem areas include the probate courtroom, a small courtroom on the first floor of the building where there is only one door.

“There’s one door in — that’s it. And the judge is in the back corner, so there’s nowhere for the judge to go” if someone comes in with ill intent, Ferguson said.

Laura Johnson, deputy register of probate, said sometimes emotions can run high in people involved in probate court proceedings in the building, which can involve people with mental health issues, opiate use, people losing their children, people being put under guardianship, and people dealing with the loss of loved ones and struggling over their estates.

“People get upset, emotions are on high. Usually they don’t get violent, but we have had some incidents where they get pretty heated, and there’s no buffer here — just a counter,” Johnson said. “It’s nice, now, we have a screener, who checks them as they come in. If we know somebody could be a threat, we let (the screener) know. We really appreciate the effort (of county officials), once they realized there were issues.”

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