Fresno Deputies and the Terrorists Hiding in Harry Drandell’s Wallet

Prosecutors walk into courthouses across the country with a breezy wave of their hand to the deputies and court officers who stand between Americans and their legal system.  They, of course, can be trusted, because prosecutors are the good guys.  But what about criminal defense lawyers?

In Fresno, criminal defense lawyer Harry Drandell walked into the courthouse that he’s been in a thousand times before.  Somehow, he managed not to do harm to anyone, provided you don’t consider defending the accused doing harm. Some do, you know.  It’s impossible to imagine the deputies at the gate didn’t know Drandell, didn’t recognize him and realize why he was there.  But security changed that day, and nothing is more important than security.  From the Fresno Bee:

Attorney Harry Drandell, 57, refused to let his wallet be scanned by deputies when he tried to enter the courthouse about 10 a.m., sheriff’s spokesman Chris Curtice said. Drandell then became angry and argued with deputies, who ordered him to leave the building. He refused, and scuffled with deputies when they tried to escort him outside. That’s when he was arrested and taken to Fresno County Jail.

He was booked on suspicion of trespass in a public building and resisting arrest.

That’s right, his wallet.  Somebody got it in their head that wallets ought to be scanned.  They put it under the heading of “security,” but not even the bulkiest brick of a wallet is big enough to conceal an AK 47.  Rather, the scanning is more about catching the guy who has a packet of coke hidden in the billfold.  There’s no security involved, just a cheap excuse to catch someone forced to walk into the courthouse.

But Harry Drandell?  A criminal defense lawyer?  Did they have some suspicion that he was sneaking something into the courthouse in his wallet?

In some courthouses, lawyers show their IDs, usually some state “authorized” card because if it’s state authorized, it makes the lawyer more lawyerish, and how could any deputy possibly trust an unlawyerish lawyer.  To the extent it’s more onerous than the breezy wave of prosecutors, it’s wrong.  There is no justification to treat defense lawyers more poorly than prosecutors.

On the other hand, to the extent the public is treated differently than lawyers, there isn’t a justification for that either. I know, it’s a dangerous world, security, McVeigh, etc.  Treat a million Americans like dirt because one has bad intent.  Somehow, this equation makes perfect sense, both to the vast majority of Americans as well as the people with guns. Got it.

But a lawyer’s wallet?

Drandell said the deputies’ request to run his wallet through the courthouse X-ray machine was a new requirement and he was trying to clarify the rule Wednesday. He said he then stepped outside the courthouse to get a bucket for his wallet and when he tried to go back inside deputies refused to let him enter.

When he insisted that he be allowed to enter for a court matter, he said, “I was thrown forcibly on to the rollers of the X-ray machine. And my hands were forcibly pulled behind my back. And I was handcuffed and after being handcuffed I was placed on a chair there in the foyer for all to see.”

Read more here:

Drandell tells the story of a reluctant hero.  He wasn’t pleased with such an absurd burden, inexplicably and suddenly placed on the same lawyers who went in and out of the building without incident for years, even decades.  So he did what lawyers are inclined to do, what Americans are inclined to do: he expressed his disdain and anger for the latest indignity.

It doesn’t appear he planned on refusing to comply, but rather wasn’t going to comply with a smile.

Drandell tells Action News he may have argued a little, but he fully intended to comply and deputies overreacted when he grabbed a bucket to put his wallet in it.

Drandell added, “I’m shocked and dismayed that the security system is such that an attorney who emits any kind of complaint about the new procedures that are being implemented, that seem to be ever-changing, can be thrown onto the conveyor belt.”

From the reactions of deputies, it appears that they were expecting some lawyer to get pissed, and were locked and loaded for the first guy who peeped that he was pissed.  This is a courthouse manned by deputies who have demonstrated they don’t take kindly to dispute.

Unfortunately, and pathetically, there is no local criminal bar organization to speak for the lawyers whose job it is to make it past the deputies and stand besides the defendants they are there to serve.  So in Fresno, it’s each lawyer for himself.

It’s far easier to throw one lawyer to the rollers because he thinks the deputies’ demand to inspect his wallet is outrageous and ridiculous, than it is to have an organized front go to the administrative judge and demand that defense lawyers be shown the same courtesy as prosecutors.  And judges, for that matter.

Are defense lawyers some lesser beings, unworthy of being treated with the same respect and courtesy by court personnel as the other players in the system?  Apparently so, according to the deputies manning the gates in Fresno.  This should never be allowed to happen.  Harry Drandell took a bullet for all Fresno criminal defense lawyers, and it’s now time for the rest of the criminal defense bar to show the courthouse deputies that they won’t tolerate this treatment.

Read more here:


13 thoughts on “Fresno Deputies and the Terrorists Hiding in Harry Drandell’s Wallet

  1. Ken Hagler

    There are credit-card sized folding pocket knives meant to be carried in a wallet–I’ve carried one for years. The deputies were probably making sure that Mr. Drandell wasn’t exercising his right to keep and bear arms. Wouldn’t want the peasants to get uppity, thinking they live in a free country…

    1. SHG Post author

      Yup. That must have been it. You can never be too worried about a criminal defense lawyer whipping out his credit card folding knife and terrorizing the courthouse.

  2. A Public Defender

    Well, in fairness to the courthouse security, we are no better than the scum we represent.

    Sometimes I wonder how many indignities we put up with for the sake of defending our clients. It would have been very simple for Mr. Drandell to just roll his eyes and comply the first time around. It’s what I would have done. Kudos to him for his resistance, even if momentary and ultimately fruitless.

  3. Alice Harris

    For a time, I headed the 10-lawyer public defender office in a small Florida town. Without prior notice, security at the courthouse entrance demanded that we public defenders submit to scanning of all our papers, briefcases, etc. The assistant state attorneys were being waved through. Fortunately, after I complained off the disparate treatment, authorities reversed course and went back to admitting public defenders without inspections. However, private defense lawyers are still required to undergo security screening at our local courthouses. Despite protests and lobbying from an active criminal defense bar organization, that policy remains in force.

    1. SHG Post author

      We had a similar thing happen in NY County, but the president of the NYSACDL at the time, Dick Barbuto, wrote a scathing letter about the outrage of treating defense lawyers as threats and pariahs while prosecutors were allowed to waltz in caused the administrative judge to reverse course. Dick had no qualms about standing up for CDLs even if it pissed off the “powerful.” Too bad they now shake with fear at the thought of taking a stand.

  4. Renee Rees

    I wanted to say thank you for writing this wonderful, truthful and eloquent blog regarding this past week’s incident. I am Harry Drandell’s daughter and I wanted to make it known that I have been blown away by the outpouring of support and compassion the Fresno legal community who KNOWS my dad has been showering upon us these last few days. Well, even folks within the community who only know OF him have joined the movement and are demanding this be made right. My father told me Wednesday night he couldn’t yet find the reason why any of this was happening. Well, by Friday afternoon, upon he and I both receiving floods of emails with words of support and encouragement all day– including the link to this blog– my father let me know he already could see the good coming of the injustice that was done to him Wednesday morning at the courthouse. I am so proud of my father, the “reluctant hero” as you so astutely called him. I stand by him and invite all of those who support the cause of criminal defense attorneys in reestablishing the respect that is rightly due to them by debuties and law enforcement officials as they go about their thankless job of representing the hopeless and downtrodden criminal.

    1. SHG Post author

      Trying to get criminal defense lawyers to agree on anything is like herding feral cats. When it comes to your father, however, we stand behind him. Please give him our best.

  5. Daniel

    I am a non lawyer. I have entered and exited the courthouse in Lompoc, California for about 25 years, without being scanned or searched. Then the scanners were installed. I orally objected to the Fourth Amendment violation, and the officer called for other deputies, “We have one of them.” I complied, and entered. Ever since then, it breaks my heart to see prosecutors easily enter, but I see public defenders removing their belts and sometimes their shoes and the officer scanning their briefcases, with a smile and without any objection whatsoever (I don’t blame them because I don’t want judges to be too biased against the “rebel” defenders).

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