House of Delegates

Traumatic impacts of threats on judges, their families and court staff should be studied

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Judicial security

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Threats and attacks on judges and their families have been on the increase in this country,” Toni E. Clarke, a delegate for the National Conference of State Trial Judges, told the ABA House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting. “Unfortunately, these threats and attacks don’t stop with judges.”

Clarke introduced Resolution 200, urging judicial leaders to study the impact of trauma on judges, their families and staff and recommend steps to improve their safety and mental wellness.

Submitted by the Judicial Division and co-sponsored by the National Conference of State Trial Judges, the resolution recommends training that allows judges and their families to seek treatment for mental health while mitigating the chance of security breaches. It passed overwhelmingly.

The resolution follows the 2022 arrest of an armed man in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who is accused of attempting to kill U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In 2020, a disgruntled attorney shot the husband and son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in their New Jersey home. Her son was killed.

In 2021, the House of Delegates supported the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, which was named for Salas’ son. It later passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law in December 2022. That act makes it more difficult to find judges’ addresses and personal information online.

Jonathan Shirts, a delegate representing the Idaho State Bar, emphasized the need to extend support to all courthouse staff. “The judge is not siloed,” he said, and conversations about judicial security should include “every single person in the courthouse and courtroom, from the court reporters to the janitorial staff.”

“Can a bailiff be even 90% effective if she cannot stop thinking about the trial the previous week and her work with a witness in a child sex case?” he asked. “Do we think about the court reporter who might be sitting right in between the judge and any potential threats? Do we think about the law clerks, the staff attorneys who are quite possibly reading everything that the judge is reading?”

This story was originally published in the October-November 2023 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Tackling Trauma: Impacts of threats on judges, their families and court staff should be studied.”

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