Telling colleagues and superiors that he fears a family law litigant, Anoka County Judge John Dehen wants to carry a gun into the courthouse.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing prosecutors to carry a concealed weapon if they receive approval from their county attorney and a judge. One of the legislators who proposed the law wholeheartedly supports Dehen's efforts.
"It would set a nice precedent if he was allowed to carry a gun in the courthouse," said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder. "It would give some credence to the cause that courtrooms can be a dangerous place, and deputies aren't always in the courtroom."
Dehen appears to be wading into uncharted legal waters by talking to the Anoka County Sheriff's Office, fellow judges and the district's chief judge about his desire to carry a weapon.
Cmdr. Paul Sommer of the Sheriff's Office said they haven't decided whether Dehen can bring a gun into the courthouse, but strongly discouraged him from doing it, saying the courthouse already provides adequate security measures. Chief Judge John Hoffman of the 10th Judicial District asked Dehen for assurance that he wouldn't violate the 2003 court order that banned guns from the courthouse unless his request is approved.
"I know he has talked to other judges, but I don't know the results," said Hoffman.
Asked to discuss his request, Dehen asked to see a list of potential questions from a Star Tribune reporter, then responded in an e-mail that "although I would like to discuss the matter, it is not appropriate to publicly comment at this time."
Dehen, 51, won a rare judicial election victory in 2010 against longtime Judge Michael Roith. Married with four children, Dehen graduated from William Mitchell College of Law, went into private practice and served on the Ramsey City Council.
In August, Dehen contacted Hoffman to inquire about his ability to carry a gun in the courthouse. Unless there had been a modification to the gun ban order since 2003, Hoffman said it was prohibited. Other than armed bailiffs in courtrooms, the only firearms allowed inside a courthouse are a gun submitted as evidence in a trial and weapons carried by a peace officer or military personnel performing official duties.
A month after they talked, Hoffman learned that Dehen also had contacted the Sheriff's Office. Dehen hadn't expressed any safety issues when they met, Hoffman said, but later voiced concerns for his safety regarding a divorce and child custody case. The Sheriff's Office wasn't aware of Dehen's concerns, Sommer said.
No judge has made a request to carry a weapon in Hennepin County, which has the largest district court system in the state. All its county judges recently attended four-hour training sessions on courtroom and personal security, said Chief Judge Pete Cahill. He once had an indirect threat communicated to him, and security personnel were extremely responsive, he said.
"I feel very good about courthouse security and feel I don't need to provide my own security," he said.
Courtroom security became a hot topic last December when Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell was shot and critically wounded by a man convicted of criminal sexual assault. After the verdict, Daniel Schlienz took a gun from his car and re-entered the building. He shot Scannell and a witness who had testified against him.
Cornish said he had been accused of pushing his bill to allow prosecutors to carry guns in the courthouse as a knee-jerk reaction to the incident, but he said the legislation already had been drafted and was under review when Scannell was attacked.
Cornish said he had wanted the bill to cover judges, but had feared that might have scuttled the entire bill because the courts would have to overturn the 2003 court-ordered gun ban "and that isn't very likely to happen." Several other states do allow judges to carry guns.
"I still believe the best person to defend yourself is you," Cornish said.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465