Report: Courthouse Fatality Highlights Need for Greater Security

A former city manager unhappy about his property taxes was shot fatally after brandishing a handgun and firing it at an Iowa county assessor, and missing, at a meeting of the Jackson County board of supervisors. The shooting inside the Jackson County Courthouse drew attention to a greater need for courthouse security.

The Quad City Times reported that of all courthouses in the 7th Judicial District, only the Jackson County Courthouse in Maquoketa  “does not house either a metal detector or an armed bailiff” for security. (more…)

With Court Order, Judges Let Themselves Pack Firearms

OhioFlag1With incidents of violence security threats on the rise in court buildings, four Court of Appeals judges in Ohio have authorized themselves to carry guns in and outside of the courtroom.

A WOUB news report said the judges, in an order, exempted themselves from a requirement for firearms training and for holding a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The court order said protecting judges beyond routine work hours and beyond the courthouse is critical. (more…)

Article: Security Doesn't Preclude Courthouse Violence

A federal marshal’s fatal shooting of a defendant who lunged at a witness with a pen in a Salt Lake City, Utah courtroom (see Gavel Grab) is a reminder of the ever-present possibility of courthouse attacks, a federal judge told the Associated Press.

“You can’t be a judge very long without having a trial that presents concerning situations,” U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman of Seattle, Washington said. “We handle them by talking them through with the marshals. … This sounds like something that could have happened at any courthouse, at any time.”

The Utah courthouse opened its doors just last week with numerous security improvements over older courthouses. The AP article was headlined, “Courthouse violence unpredictable despite security.”

Meanwhile a Des Moines (Iowa) Register editorial mentioned the Utah shooting as it called for the legislature to help counties foot the bill for court security improvements around the state.


NPR Discusses Threats Judges and Prosecutors Face

On Monday during NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan interviewed Ohio Municipal Judge Mike Cicconetti and Texas District Court Judge Sid Harle on the death threats that judges and prosecutors have received.

Cicconetti, who works in a misdemeanor court, received a death threat almost seven years ago from a couple he was scheduled to try on a tax evasion charge. Cicconetti said the couple felt that everyone was out to get them.

“I think this rings true with so many of these people who are seeking vengeance on public officials that, you know, it’s everybody’s out to get them syndrome that they have,” Cicconetti said.

Local police notified Cicconetti that the defendant was constructing a pipe bomb and planned to detonate it in the judge’s home. Cicconetti told Conan that the death threat led him to carry stun guns when sitting on the bench. (more…)

Some States Weigh Allowing More Guns in Courthouses

At a time of budget cuts affecting courthouse security in some states, bills to allow the carrying of more firearms into courthouses have advanced in six states, Gavel to Gavel reports.

These bills have advanced in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming. They vary in their detail, and in Georgia, the House has passed its legislation over the opposition of judges.

The Georgia measure “would effectively allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry into a courthouse UNLESS the court provided security screening at the doorway,” according to Gavel to Gavel. It is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner group.

In February, shootings at or near courthouses in Delaware and South Carolina heightened awareness and concern over threats to court security (see Gavel Grab).

Dual Shootings Focus Attention on Court Security

Shootings at or near two courthouses last week illustrate the continuing challenge facing judges and court administrators who want to protect the public and court staff, a National Law Journal article suggests.

William E. Raftery and Timothy F. Fautsko of the National Center for State Courts wrote the article on the heels of a shooting that left three people dead at a Delaware courthouse (see Gavel Grab) and a non-fatal shooting in a parking area outside a South Carolina courthouse (see Associated Press article for background). The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner group.

What has been learned in past years and apparently last week “is the critical nature that security at the entrance plays,” the authors wr0te. “Stopping a potential assailant at the courthouse doors is the easiest way to minimize tragedy.”

Gunfire at Delaware Courthouse Leaves Three Dead

Three people were shot dead at a courthouse in Wilmington, Del. on Monday, according to a Bloomberg report.

The confrontation related to a custody fight, and those who were shot fatally included the gunman. Two women were killed, and there were unconfirmed reports that one was the gunman’s estranged wife, according to an Associated Press article.

The gunman started shooting in the courthouse lobby and there was an exchange of gunfire with police.

Federal Judge Outlines Occupational Hazards of Judiciary in his Book

In a Huffington Post blog, federal Judge Frederic Block describes the death threats that he and his colleagues face while sitting on the federal bench. Block writes about the threat on his life he received and those of other judges in his book, Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

In his book’s chapter titled “The Risks,” Judge Block writes that several years ago he was informed by an F.B.I. agent of Anthony Casso’s threat to kill him. The agent informed him that the F.B.I. investigated “over 300 threats against Article III federal judges” on an annual basis.

Block says this prompted him to look into the history of death threats against federal judges. He says that the numbers have risen drastically in the last decade. In 2010, 1,400 threats were made against judges compared to 592 in 2003.

In the chapter, Block describes the assassinations of three federal judges: John H. Wood, Richard J. Daronco, and Robert Smith Vance.

Block says he was told by the F.B.I. that the death threat to him was classified as low risk, and he has received two others since then.  These threats made clear that “being a judge was no bed of roses,” he notes.

Block states that few significant changes have been made regarding safety conditions for judges; there are no protective barriers around his courthouse. The rise in threats signifies this as a time to take action, he says.

Illinois Governor Signs New Law On Judicial Safety Concerns

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (photo) has signed into law the Michael Lefkow and Donna Humphrey Judicial Privacy Improvement Act of 2012. The law is designed to improve the safety of Illinois judges, and allow them to request their personal information be removed from public documents, says a Madison Record article.

The Illinois government hopes the new law will lessen concerns of personal retaliation at the hands of individuals who were significantly affected by a judge’s decision, says the article. It was named for the murdered family members of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow. Her husband and mother were murdered after she dismissed a plaintiff’s medical malpractice suit, says the article.

Under the law, judges will be able to ask in writing for their personal information to be removed from web sites and public documents. The information includes judges’  home addresses, personal emails, and telephone numbers.  If an individual illegally publishes a judge’s information, they could be charged with a felony should any harm befall the judge.

The Illinois law endeavors to allow judges to “administer justice fairly” without worrying how their actions may affect their safety.

Lack in Security Leads to Washington Courthouse Attack

A man stabbed a judge and shot a sheriff’s deputy Friday afternoon in a Washington state county courthouse, reports the Bellingham Herald. Authorities were searching for the man over the weekend, and the article says it was unclear why the suspect had been at the building.

Judge David Edwards, who was stabbed while attempting to stop the assailant, had previously raised the issue of security at the courthouse, writes the King 5 News. In December, Edwards took part in a lawsuit filed over county budget cuts that reduced funding for courthouse security. The court building is not equipped with a metal detector, and there was no on-site security Friday afternoon, according to an article in the Seattle Times. The judges’ chambers are open to the public as well.

According to another Seattle Times article, there have been several past incidents of violence in the courthouse. Over the past two years, “two attorneys were assaulted, a defendant ‘charged’ a judge, and a judge who received a death threat during trial was not provided with adequate security.”

The article cites a significant budget cut for the lax security. State court administrator Jeff Hall argues that despite the budget, “all courts should screen for weapons at every access point.” Courthouses are privy to a variety of incidents, Hall said.

Judge Edwards and Deputy Polly Davin were treated and released from a local hospital hours after the Friday attack. The suspect, identified as Steven Daniel Kravetz, was found and arrested at his mother’s house in Olympia over the weekend according to USA Today News.