Breaking News

Sen. Gail Davenport to host MARTA job fair February 26, 2015


Shooting in Atlanta courthouse: Area counties discuss potential changes after shooting, while Superior Court judge remembered by colleagues as 'fun man'

By Ed Brock

Kiley Barnes was starting her second day on the job as a legal assistant in attorney Tom Barton's office in Stockbridge when she learned of her beloved father's violent death. Her goal, which friends say will now be strengthened, was to follow his footsteps into the practice of law.

"Now, as a tribute to her father, that will be the number one thing on her plate," said attorney Lee Sexton, a longtime friend of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes.

Barton said he was on a school field trip in Huntsville, Ala., when he heard the news. He returned immediately to his office but Barnes had already left.

"Of course she was very upset," Barton said. "He was the primary focus of her life. This will be very difficult for her."

Sexton said Barnes, 26, came to his office after leaving Barton's.

"We consoled her as best we could," Sexton said. "She's doing as well as anyone can expect."

He couldn't say where Barnes went when she left his office.

Many other members of the Clayton County legal community knew Roland Barnes and his daughter. Kiley Barnes had worked as a legal secretary and receptionist at the Clayton County Solicitor General's office until about two weeks ago, and the county's former Solicitor General Keith Martin said he's known her father "Rolo" for about 30 years.

"Rolo was a fun man," Martin said. "I enjoyed seeing him, I enjoyed talking to him, I enjoyed laughing with him."

Martin said Nichols was just "disturbed and mean."

"The purpose of all this was not just the escape," Martin said. "Why would you shoot the judge? He's not going to chase you."

Solicitor General Leslie Miller Terry said she was assigned to Barnes' courtroom when she worked as an assistant district attorney for Fulton County.

"He was one of the better judges. He was very level headed," Terry said. "He was one of the fairest judges down there. That's why this surprises me."

Clayton County State Court Judge John Carbo said that he knew Barnes well and that he was respected both personally and professionally.

"I knew him probably 25 years," Carbo said, calling him a "good fellow."

"Personally, he was a very gregarious, friendly, open person," Carbo said "If he met you and knew you, he was your friend."

Barnes served as a municipal court judge in College Park and in 1995 served as an interim state court judge in Clayton County for three or four months, Carbo said.

By those in the legal community, Barnes was considered "absolutely top notch," he said.

"He had a very good reputation as a judge," Carbo said.

Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen Boswell said that he has known Barnes since the judge began practicing law and saw him less than two months ago at a judicial conference.

Boswell called Barnes a "gentle giant," one respected by both prosecutors and defense attorneys. He was a "very kind, passionate fellow" and "probably one of the most level-headed judges."

On learning of the news, Boswell said he was "stunned, absolutely stunned."

The sheriff's office and police department do "as good a job as they can for judges, but also for courthouse personnel," he said, speaking of security in Clayton County courtrooms.

"It just sort of comes with the territory of being a judge," said Boswell, who has served as a judge for about 13 years, adding that he receives threats, although not that often. "We all try to be attune to situations that may present a risk."

Carbo said that he has had "several people act up" in his courtroom, but nothing serious.

"You can't live in fear, and courtrooms can't operate under a rock," Boswell said. "It's just something courtrooms have to deal with."

The Harold R. Banke Justice Center was designed with security in mind, making it more secure than older courthouses, he said. Suspects are no longer transported through public hallways and holding cells are immediately next to courtrooms, limiting the number of suspects in the courtroom at one time.

Security at the courthouse falls to sheriff's departments.

Shortly after the shootings took place, Henry County Sheriff Donald Chaffin said people approached him about security at the Henry County Courthouse.

"You'd like to say it's top-notch but I've heard from some people going in and out (of the courthouse), that they didn't feel it was tight enough," Chaffin said. He said the same individuals also told him that women's purses were not checked thoroughly.

"The metal detectors in the back are not manned when court is not in session (because there is ) not that much coming and going," Chaffin said.

Chaffin said there is always an armed deputy providing security in each courtroom during court sessions. He said an unarmed, civilian bailiff is present also. There is one person assigned to each metal detector.

"Dealing with prisoners, there can be any number (of deputies in the courtrooms)," Chaffin said.

Chaffin and members of his staff, including deputy supervisors, met Friday to discuss making possible courthouse security changes but would not say what changes, if any, would be made.

"It's dangerous any time you have inmates," Chaffin said. "You can't be too careful."

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, said began implementing new security procedures two weeks ago. The procedures include requiring lawyers entering the building to have their bags searched like any other person coming into the building, ending passes that allowed the attorneys to circumvent that requirement.

He plans to meet with judges next week to discuss that change.

Also, he has increased the training by his deputies who handle courthouse security, requiring them to qualify at 80 percent or better at the county's firing range, a 10 percent increase over the old requirement. Friday's incident showed that courthouse deputies need to have the same skills as a road deputy.

Hill also wants to allow police officers who are in the courtroom as witnesses to carry their weapons.

"These guys are just as trained as my deputies," Hill said. "If somebody got a gun away from one of our deputies I'd hate to think that a police officer would be sitting there unable to help with the situation."

Henry County Chief Superior Court Judge Hal Craig pointed out that security at the courthouse entrance would not have prevented Friday's shootings and that he prefers deputies be armed rather than unarmed.

Additional reporting was contributed by staff writers Aisha Jefferson and Greg Gelpi.