Court Security

US Marshal Shares Steps Lawyers and Judges Can Take to Improve Personal Security

You might have an unlisted phone number, eschew social media and never post photos online, but those steps alone don’t guarantee safety if a disgruntled litigant wants to find and hurt you or your family, a U.S. Marshal told a group of judges and lawyers Saturday.

Speaking on an annual meeting panel about enhancing personal security, John Muffler, chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service, noted that the Internet is often a window to find someone’s home.

“We have about 18,000 threats and improper communications, just at the federal level,” said Muffler, who is also administrator of the National Center for Judicial Security. “There are too many stories about judges getting attacked.”

The presentation, “Sensible Steps to Enhance Your Personal Security—and That of Your Family,” was sponsored by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements. Other panelists were U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Andrea Henson-Armstrong, an education attorney at the Federal Judicial Center.

Having an unlisted number isn’t enough to keep a home address off the audience learned: It must also be unpublished. Other items that can share someone’s whereabouts are location-based social networking sites like Foursquare, and iPhone photos embedded with global positioning codes.

“Turn off the GPS settings on smartphones,” Henson-Armstrong said. “Otherwise,the codes will be embedded.”

Hudson mentioned retail rewards cards.

“All that information you provide them goes to the Internet,” he said. “Develop a family policy of not providing that type of information unless it’s an emergency.”

Another problem with personal addresses online, Hudson told the audience, is that anyone could file a false lien against you.

“Someone filed one against me for $3 billion,” Hudson said. “We encourage judges to contact their clerk of court in the county where they live, and alert them to the possibility of false liens being filed.”

The panel also addressed home security systems. After disgruntled litigant Bart Ross in 2005 broke into the Chicago home of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow, and shot and killed the Northern District of Illinois’ husband and mother, a federal law allotted funds for federal jurists’ personal security. A significant portion goes toward home alarm systems.

Ross committed suicide after his murders. Muffler noted that when the man’s body was found, it contained a list of both state and federal judges he appeared in front of, with their home addresses.

“There are too many cases where a litigant who is a disturbed individual couldn’t find the judge, so they took out their issues on the judge’s family,” said Muffler, mentioning that in addition to home security alarms, motion lights around a home are also useful. Not to be forgotten are good door locks and deadbolts.

“Of the burglaries that federal judges have had around the country, it’s amazing how many did not have their alarms on,” Hudson told the audience. “Be sure your sheriff or marshal has contact with the local police department, and they are aware you are a judge.”

Some members of the audience had their own security tips. One noted that for overseas travel, she listed her occupation as a teacher rather than a jurist. Another said that as soon as he got on the bench, he used the courthouse as an address. The problem, he added, was that also brought jury subpoenas and voting polls for a county that wasn’t his residence.

Others asked about caring firearms.

“If you do carry it, do not carry it on the bench,” Muffler said. “When law enforcement responds to a gunfight, their field of vision narrows, and there’s a chance you will get shot by one of your deputies.”

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