• United States



Managing Editor

More Security for Judges

Nov 01, 20053 mins

“Without fearless judges, where are we as a nation? If…attacks on judges are perpetuated because each person feels free in deciding for themselves what is right or just, then chaos and anarchy will not be far behind.”

That comment, from U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, came at a Senate hearing on judges’ safety in May, three months after a man upset with Lefkow’s dismissing his medical malpractice suit murdered her husband and mother at their Chicago home.

There’s evidence that threats to judges are increasing: The Justice Department’s Inspector General found that threats directed at federal judges grew in 2004 to 674, up from 585 in 2003. Responding to the Lefkow incident and the murder of a Fulton County court judge in Atlanta on March 11, Congress passed an emergency supplemental appropriations act in May to beef up security for the judicial branch, including $11.94 million for additional marshals outside federal courts and for home intrusion detection systems for more than 2,200 active and semiretired federal judges and magistrates.

Congress also is poised to pass a bill that stiffens penalties for those who threaten judges or act on those threats. The House Judiciary Committee is due to take up H.R. 1751, which would subject to the death penalty anyone convicted of murdering or attempting or conspiring to kill a judge. The bill, which also prohibits posting judges’ personal data on the Internet, is on the committee’s fall agenda, said spokesman Jeff Lungren.

The May emergency supplemental appropriation and the House bill answer some of the points in Lefkow’s testimony and address the U.S. Judicial Conference’s request for more personal security for judges and their families. The conference called for providing home intrusion detection systems and more money for U.S. Marshals Service agents and investigators.

The U.S. Marshals Service is in charge of security at the nation’s 94 federal judicial courts and at the District of Columbia Superior Court, according to spokeswoman Nikki Credic. Marshals also protect more than 2,000 sitting judges and other court officials at over 400 court facilities. The agency has 139 people working on judges’ security, 45 assigned to the Marshals Service’s Judicial Security Division.

Part of the long-term effort has to be strong coordination among the federal marshals and local law enforcement officials, if any security standards for judges’ safety are to be met, says John E. Zaruba, the sheriff of DuPage County, Ill., and chairman of a National Sheriffs’ Association committee on court security. The association is holding a meeting this month in Washington, D.C., to discuss court security.

There’s more involved, however, than laws and marshals. In Lefkow’s testimony, she cited the danger in a political climate in which politicians propagate implied threats to the judiciary. Judges took notice when then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said justices would have to “answer for their behavior,” after the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistent vegetative state, when Florida courts ruled she could be taken off a feeding tube.

Managing Editor

Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.

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