ABA urges Congress to prioritize judicial security amid recent attacks on judge and court officer
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The ABA asked Congress on Tuesday to quickly take action to protect federal judges and their families in the wake of a July attack at the home of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas of New Jersey.
In letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo urged Congress to focus on supplement funding to update essential security equipment and reexamine federal laws to make sure that they protect judges amid the rise of physical threats on social media.
Refo also encouraged legislation that would improve threat monitoring and require the U.S. Marshals Service and Administrative Office of the United States Courts to consult and update Congress “on a regular and continuing basis” on the judiciary’s security needs.
Refo says in an interview the ABA had been talking about the need to improve judicial security for about 15 years.
“As we continue to experience tragedies, we continue to speak out on something that we’ve talked about for a very long time,” Refo says. “There are a convergence of forces right now focused on this issue. So it’s appropriate for the nation’s lawyers to speak out in support of adequate security for our federal court employees.”
There are currently several proposals on judicial security pending in Congress, including bills in the House of Representatives and Senate. The federal judiciary is also pushing for funding for security enhancements to better protect judges.
The offices of Pelosi and McConnell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Over the summer, Salas’ 20-year-old son Daniel Anderl, was killed after a gunman approached her home dressed in a FedEx uniform and opened fire. The primary suspect is Roy Den Hollander, a misogynistic lawyer who was found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, about 140 miles north of Salas’ home.
In May, federal officer Dave Patrick Underwood, 53, was shot and killed during the George Floyd protests in Oakland, California. In September, a court security officer was shot outside a courthouse in Phoenix, a facility that Refo said she visits frequently. The officer was wearing a protective vest, and the shooting was not fatal.
“Each of these events represents an egregious attack on the rule of law and on our democracy, which holds the independence of the judiciary to be the essential safeguard of a free society,” Refo wrote in the letters. “Steps need to be taken now to preserve [the] ability of our judges to decide matters that come before them without fear of reprisal or physical harm to themselves or their family.”
The bills H.R. 8591 in the House and S. 4711 in the Senate seek funding for enhanced security for judges and recommend measures that would prevent the publication of judges’ personally identifiable information.
In September, the federal judiciary asked the House and Senate appropriations committees to fund three security upgrades. That includes $7.2 million to install security systems at judges’ homes and $2 million per year to make sure that the systems are updated. The judiciary wants 1,000 new deputy U.S. marshals and $267 million in funding to upgrade security cameras at 650 courthouses and federal buildings.
From 2014 to 2018, the U.S. Marshals Service recorded an increase in threats to federal judges and other members of the federal judiciary, according to an analysis of the data.
In 2014, 768 threats or “inappropriate communications” were made. In 2019, there were 4,449, a 479% increase, the ABA Journal reported in October. The U.S. Marshals Service said the “increase in threats and inappropriate communications represents the improved effectiveness in data collection and reporting of potential threats.”
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