WALLA WALLA — The state Legislature has approved a bipartisan bill making it a felony to assault any person in or near a courtroom at a county courthouse.
The measure extends to all visitors the protections currently granted to some courthouse, legal and law enforcement personnel, according to a news release from the office of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who proposed the law.
Currently a person is guilty of felony third-degree assault in the attack of a judicial officer, court-related employee or a county clerk’s office employee. But if signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, the new bill would increase what would have been a misdemeanor assault to the felony, third-degree assault level if someone “assaults (any) person located in a courtroom, jury room, judge’s chamber” or adjacent area during court proceedings.
The measure also designates committing a felony in and around a courthouse — regardless of the victim — an aggravating factor for a judge to consider during sentencing.
Notification signs must be posted.
“People should feel safe when they access the courts — no matter whether they are a judge or a juror,” Ferguson said in a release.
Longtime Walla Walla County Clerk Kathy Martin said Tuesday that assaults, such as pushing or shoving, at the local courthouse are rare. But increasing potential penalties and placing notification signs might continue encouraging cool heads to prevail, she added.
“I think it’s a great idea.”