Security Concerns Debated After Robbery of Justice Breyer

The robbery of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at his vacation home on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean has raised again the question of how much security protection the justices should get.

A Blog of Legal Times post summarized the ways that justices may be protected:

“[W]hen they are at public events in the D.C. area, justices are typically accompanied by Supreme Court police; when they are in the rest of the country, officers from the local U.S. marshal’s office are seen providing security. When they travel abroad, security appears to be handled through the U.S. embassy at their destination.”

Brian Todd said in a CNN broadcast the robbery of Justice Breyer by a machete-wielding intruder raises the question, “Are America’s top judicial figures adequately protected?” Todd did not give an answer. His report included an interview with a former U.S. Secret Service director who said full-time security for the justices, which is not provided now, would be both expensive and invasive to privacy.

Initial news reports did not indicate that Justice Breyer’s robber knew the identity of his intended victim. The CNN report alluded to the killing of family members of a Chicago federal judge in 2005. In that case, a man frustrated over a failed lawsuit later was identified as the killer of the mother and husband of Judge Joan Lefkow, after the man had committed suicide.


Gunman Opens Fire in NY Courthouse, Court Officer Wounded

After an exchange of gunfire in a Middletown, N.Y. courthouse today, a gunman was killed and a court officer was wounded.

Police reported that a man walked into the lobby with a shotgun and opened fire, according to a CBS2 news report. Another TV station,  NBC New York,  reported that the shooter had legal troubles in the past and had a dispute with the mayor.

After entering the vestibule outside City Court, the gunman opened fire toward two New York State court officers who were near the entrance, according to a Middletown Times Herald-Record article. One of the court officers was hit in the arm; the officers returned fire.

Wisconsin Justices to Discuss Guns in Their Chambers

Starting Tuesday, a new law will allow people to carry concealed weapons in most Wisconsin state buildings, including the statehouse, where the state Supreme Court is located.

However,  concealed weapons will be barred in the state Supreme Court hearing room on the second floor of the statehouse. Wisconsin’s justices soon will discuss policies regarding concealed weapons in their chambers, according to an Associated Press article.

Judges and prosecutors are allowed to carry arms under Wisconsin law.

Elsewhere, court officials were wrestling with court security issues. A Carlsbad (N.M.) Current-Argus article reported that the Eddy County sheriff said he needed more manpower to comply with a judge’s order for greater court security; a Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel article was headlined, “Video arraignment latest Anderson Courthouse security measure.”


Arkansas Shooting Spotlights Court Safety Concerns

Questions about security at even small county courthouses were raised by a gunman’s entering the Crawford County, Ar. courthouse Tuesday while armed with three semi-automatic weapons, Reuters reported. The gunman wounded a judge’s secretary in a shooting rampage (see Gavel Grab).

“For many years we have recognized the potential dangers for judges and their employees,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hannah said, noting that he and other jurists have been trying to call attention to the issue. “But this isn’t just about protecting judges. We want the courts to be accessible and safe for everyone who uses the legal system.” The episode prompted a reexamination of security measures at small courthouses.

Gunman Wounds 1 in Arkansas Courthouse Rampage

A gunman armed with three handguns and a semi-automatic rifle began firing inside the Crawford County Courthouse in Arkansas, wounding the secretary of a judge he wanted to see. The suspect died after a gun battle with authorities.

Police said the suspect, who was identified as 48-year-old James Ray Palmer of Kibler, asked to see Arkansas Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell and was told the judge was not there, according to an Associated Press article.  The gunman fired off at least 70 rounds, and he had a tactical vest that allowed him to carry more ammunition.

The police said they believe the shooting was related to a 2008 divorce and custody battle involving Palmer, which Judge Cottrell presided over, according to a report by In advance of the shooting, Palmer texted a family member and said he was going to commit suicide.

Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown said metal detectors are used only when high-profile cases are proceeding at the courthouse, and Palmer entered the courthouse without a problem.

County Judge John Hall told the (Fort Smith) Times Record, “Yes, there is going to be a change in security. The days to free access to the oldest courthouse west of the Mississippi is over.”

Wisconsin Judge Eyes Carrying a Gun in Court, Legally

Tim Duket wants to be a gun-toting judge — in his Marinette County, Wisconsin courtroom, a Wisconsin newspaper says.

The Circuit Court judge has voiced concern about his safety, has received death threats in the past, and has given some thought to the recent shooting rampage in Norway, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

In an e-mail to Wisconsin’s Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee, Judge Duket declared his “intention to carry a concealed weapon in the courthouse and courtroom” and added, “I suspect that other circuit court judges in Wisconsin have the same intention.”

A new state law permits judges to bring a firearm into the courtroom, but Judge Duket noted that some years ago, a judge was punished for concealing a revolver in his courtroom. Judge Duket wants a clarifying ruling.

The judge took a handgun training class recently and plans to apply for a concealed-carry permit soon.

Tougher Penalties Ahead for Assaults on New York Judges

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation providing stiffer penalties for assaults on New York judges. The maximum penalty had been up to seven years in prison, and that will rise to up to 15 years.

Justice Harold Bauman of Sullivan County, who was pushed by a defendant into a bulletin board and a plate-glass window by a defendant after an arraignment, pushed for the legislation, according to a Thomson Reuters News & Insight article.

Bauman learned afterward that assaults on police officers, EMTs, prison guards and other public employees were punished by harsher penalties than those on judges.

“Judges deserve respect, and I think it highlights that. Sometimes, if you increase a penalty, it can be a deterrent,” said Assemblywoman  Aileen Gunther. She is one of two legislators who the judge reached out to regarding his concern. (more…)

Judges Seek Better Protection Against Threats

Two groups representing Social Security and immigration judges have asked the U.S. government to take new steps to protect them from the threat of violence.

Judge Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, offered some of the worst horror stories at a session in Washington, according to an NPR report:

“One colleague reports that the brake lines to her car were cut while in the parking lot at work.”

“Another colleague reported that there was gang graffiti in her courtroom. During the anthrax scare, an immigration judge received a letter containing white powder. Another judge was grabbed by the robe by an irate respondent. Another judge experienced someone attempting suicide, right there, in the courtroom.” (more…)

NY Times Urges 'Better Job' in Protecting Judges

On the same day recently, a gunman–angered by the outcome of litigation over his Social Security benefits–shot and killed a courthouse security officer and wounded a deputy marshal in Las Vegas; and a government report highlighted increasing threats against federal judges and prosecutors.

In an editorial, the New York Times spotlights both the conjunction of those events and the audit’s recognition of shortcomings in the existing systems  for protecting federal justice officials, and their coordination. It succinctly calls for much-needed improvements to tighten judicial security:

“Judges and prosecutors regularly deal with disappointed parties in civil lawsuits and hardened criminals. The government needs to do a better job of protecting them.”

By clicking here, you can learn more from Gavel Grab about the audit and the shortcomings it identified.

Threats Increasing Against Federal Judges, Prosecutors

The number of threats against federal judges and prosecutors has increased by more than double since 2003, according to a new report.

These threats rose from 592 in fiscal 2003 to 1,278 in fiscal 2008, according to an audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and an article posted by CBS.

The audit was issued the same day that a gunman shot and killed a security officer and wounded a deputy marshal at a federal courthouse in Las Vegas; the gunman was shot to death by authorities, the Los Angeles Times reported. The gunman, a retiree, was apparently unhappy over losing a lawsuit involving his Social Security benefits.

The Justice Department audit pointed to “critical deficiencies” in that department’s ability to protect U.S. judges and prosecutors, according to the Washington Post. It said actual threats may be 25 percent higher than reported, because many of the targets fail to consistently report the threats. You can learn more about various kinds of attacks on judges from Gavel Grab.