Lansing — The state House approved Tuesday a plan to increase the penalty for assaulting court employees just hours after two people tried to sneak a loaded handgun into a southwest Michigan county courthouse.

Two people were arrested at the Berrien County Courthouse Tuesday morning after security found a loaded handgun inside a purse, according to the Berrien Courthouse, where Judge Charles LaSata is the husband of one bill sponsor, GOP Rep. Kimberly LaSata of Bainbridge Township. It’s the most recent example underscoring lawmakers’ argument that more needs to be done to curb courtroom assaults.

“It’s about protecting those people in our courthouses and they are just as much in the line as any law enforcement, EMT’s conservation officers, firemen and women,” said LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, who sponsors one of the bills. “They need protection as well. Courtrooms are a different place then they used to be.”

It is currently a felony to assault municipal employees that can range from a maximum of two to 20 years in prison, depending on how bad the injuries are. The three-bill bipartisan package would add another maximum 10 to 15 years in prison, although sentences can vary depending on the judge and prosecuting attorneys.

LaSata said people who try to harm court or government employees should be subject to a harsher penalty than regular people “because the general public isn’t in the courthouse every day.”

After the Berrien County incident, Arnelda Jackson, 40, is being charged with carrying a concealed weapon, felon in possession of firearm and resisting police, according to the Berrien County Sherrif’s Office. Molly Jackson, 37, was also arrested and faces concealed weapon and resisting police charges.

Assaulting a court worker of local government official could mean another 10 to 15 years in prison beyond the current sentencing guidelines under legislation the House approved, which now heads to the Senate.

The legislation comes on the heels of the 2016 Berrien County Courthouse shootings in which a handcuffed defendant shot and killed two court bailiffs with a deputy’s gun and injured the deputy and another person who didn’t work for the court. Police officers killed him on the spot.

That same year, another defendant in Ingham County charged an assistant prosecutor with a rudimentary knife hidden in his sleeve before being tackled by a detective and two court bailiffs. One of the bailiffs was injured.

Michigan law already offers stiffer penalties for assaulting some public officers but those don’t yet extend to defense attorneys, court reporters or court recorders. The package would change that.

It’s unclear how much the legislation would end up costing the state, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis. It cost an average $36,000 to incarcerate each state prisoner in 2016, the House analysis said.

Supporters of the legislation argue that because courtrooms can be volatile and small, court employees can sometimes be in danger, the House analysis said.

State Reps. Andy Schor and House Minority Leader Sam Singh, Democrats from Lansing and East Lansing, are the other two lawmakers sponsoring bills in the package.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan testified in support of the bills, which are also backed by the state’s Attorney General’s office, the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan District Judges Association and the State Court Administrative Office. The Michigan Townships Association, Michigan State Police and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan also supported the package.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan opposed the legislation.


Twitter: @MikeGerstein

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