Threats to Judges and Lawyers

It is a grave state of affairs when the people we count on to prosecute crimes and preside over trials cannot feel confident that their professional and personal security is assured.

Federal judges and prosecutors

The number of threats against federal judges and prosecutors more than doubled over the past six years according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Justice. CNN’s article of January 4, 2010 states that “The number of threats and ‘inappropriate communcations’ made to federal judges, U.S. attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys increased from 592 in fiscal year 2003 to 1,278 in fiscal year 2008, the report says.

According to USA Today, “threats against federal judges and prosecutors are on pace to rise (in 2008) for the fifth consecutive year. . . . In response, federal officials are expanding their surveillance efforts to include suspects who have threatened state and local authorities and who represent a possible danger to federal court officials.”

Internet radio host and blogger Hal Turner was recently convicted of threatening the lives of three U.S. appeals court judges.



Threats to administrative judges are on the increase, especially in emotional cases such as disability claims.



Threats of courthouse violence

Sometimes, even our elected officials express their own frustration with the justice system in a way that might encourage violence. On April 4, 2007, Senator John Cornyn of Texas seemed to rationalize violence against judges. This came just days after the murders of judges in Chicago and Atlanta.

Senator Cornyn: “I don’t know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence.”

Threats against U.S. Supreme Court Justices

CNN reported in March 2006 that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged receiving a specific death threat. Her retired colleague Sandra Day O’Connor was also a target of the threat. Ginsburg blamed the intimidation on lawmakers who, in her words, are encouraging “the irrational fringe.”

From the CNN story: “The threat came amid growing concern in the judicial community over the personal safety of judges and court personnel. A federal judge’s husband was murdered last year in Illinois by an angry litigant. Less than two weeks later, a shooting spree in Georgia left a judge, a court reporter and a deputy dead in a county courtroom.

“A conservative radio commentator in January suggested -- in a kidding manner -- that Justice John Paul Stevens be poisoned. Deadly anthrax spores were mailed to the Supreme Court’s building in 2001, prompting the building to be evacuated for several weeks, although no injuries were reported.”