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The courtroom shooting of an Atlanta judge just 11 days after the murder of a Chicago federal judge’s family has judges across the nation worried about their safety — and resigned to the notion that the profession they’ve chosen is an inescapably dangerous one. Atlanta Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and a court reporter were gunned down Friday after a defendant on trial grabbed a sheriff deputy’s weapon and opened fire. The suspect escaped and later fatally shot a second deputy. The incident came as cries for increased security for federal judges were made in the wake of the killings of Chicago federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow’s husband and mother on Feb. 28. “It’s an issue that everybody’s concerned about,” said San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Dondero. Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia says some action is needed and that the federal government must get involved. Regarding the Chicago incident, Kessler said Friday: “There have been no public statements that I’m aware from the attorney general, the president or other politicians. It’s very important we have that kind of condemnation issued.” Suddenly, security for state and federal judges has become Topic A in courthouses nationwide. “The last two weeks have shocked the judicial world,” says Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. This week, Tacha will attend the federal Judicial Conference, where much of the planned agenda is expected to be an afterthought in the wake of the violence. Judge Thomas Hogan, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, says he and other judges at the conference will meet in closed-door sessions today with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Benigno Reyna, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, which handles security for federal judges. “All the judges have expressed concern in light of the type of cases we have,” Hogan says. When San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren heard about the Georgia killings Friday morning, he recalled the time a defendant he was about to sentence in an attempted murder case broke free from sheriff’s deputies. It was Jan. 14, 2000, Warren recalls. “I was going up on the bench. I’d already read the tentative sentence, which was 700 years or something like that. [Jack] Bokin was being led down the secure hallway behind me by two deputies. And suddenly there was this massive crash.” Bokin didn’t get his hands on a gun, but he did manage to get out of the hallway and into a public area, Warren said. He was tackled on a courthouse balcony. “As soon as I heard that this morning, that’s the first thing that crossed my mind,” Warren said. NO PATTERN But the disparate facts at the center of the Atlanta and Chicago cases point out the difficulty of a solution. Barnes was murdered abruptly, in the open, with a weapon that wasn’t smuggled into the courthouse but was grabbed from a deputy. In Chicago, Lefkow’s husband and mother were slain after the suspect allegedly broke into her house and waited for the judge to come home. “In these situations, it’s virtually impossible to protect against violence,” says Judge Kessler. “You go about your business, do your daily job, take reasonable precautions, and that’s about all you really can do.” Judge Warren agrees. “With the murder in Chicago, that was carefully considered, planned. That’s the kind of stuff that makes you scared.” David Sacks, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, says federal judges have largely been safe during the service’s 216-year history. There are currently roughly 1,900 deputy U.S. marshals. The president’s 2006 budget requests roughly $7.4 million to add 65 new deputy U.S. marshals to provide judicial and courtroom security. The Marshals Service estimates it records 700 threats and inappropriate communications to judicial officials each year. Out of those, approximately 20 per year are serious enough to require the service to provide a protective detail and about a dozen of those require around-the-clock protection, the service says. “I would say we have a very, very good record,” Sacks says. “Not to belittle the situations in Atlanta and Chicago, but it’s been a long time since something has come up and there are thousands of cases being handled by the federal courts.” Sacks says that since the Chicago shootings, there hasn’t be a large outcry from federal judges requesting 24-hour marshal protection. He says judges are aware of the dangers of the job. “This isn’t Mayberry,” Sacks says. “If you’re in federal court, it’s likely you did something heinous.” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi recalled a courtroom shooting several years ago in superior court in his city. A defendant was shot, he said. “At that time security was pretty lax,” he recalled. Since then, he added, “they’ve been fairly good about ensuring that no weapons are brought into or out of the Hall of Justice.” (The bailiffs from the sheriff’s department that staff the city’s courtrooms don’t carry firearms in criminal court, or when transporting defendants from jail to court, though they do keep their firearms in civil court.) San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, though, still isn’t satisfied. His department is responsible for courtroom security at the city’s criminal and civil courthouses, and building security at the civil courthouse. Security of the building at the criminal courthouse, though, falls to the local police department. In Hennessey’s opinion, building security at the civil courthouse is adequate, but not so at the criminal courthouse. Hennessey says he and the police department would both prefer the sheriffs to take over building security there. But he adds that the funding the county provides for that task wouldn’t be enough for his department to do “a professional job.” Hennessey says he doesn’t have enough deputies. He and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donna Hitchens last year testified before a state Senate committee about the inadequacy of security funding. “We are providing good security with what we have, but we don’t have enough staff to be top-notch,” Hennessey said. He’s had a number of “heated discussions” with judges over the years about it, he said, and one presiding judge several years ago even threatened to hold him in contempt of court if he didn’t provide enough deputies to secure the courts. “It’s an ongoing debate,” the sheriff said, though he adds that the conversations have become more cordial over the years. MOVING FORWARD After the Chicago murders, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter to Attorney General Gonzales requesting a review of security procedures. The Justice Department referred questions about courthouse security to the U.S. Marshals Service. In a statement issued Friday, Robert Grey, the president of the American Bar Association, said “We must do everything in our power to make sure our courts are secure and safe, including considering providing home security systems for every judge.” The ABA also called on Congress to extend the law that allows federal judges to remove information from financial disclosure forms that could endanger them. The law is scheduled to expire in December. A spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said no new security measures were being considered, but that Atlanta and Chicago incidents could change that. Barnes, 64, was named to the Fulton County Superior Court bench in 1998. He drew national attention last month when he took the unusual step of ordering a mother of seven who pleaded guilty to killing her 5-week-old daughter to be sterilized to prevent her from having more children. His killing came less than two weeks after the husband and elderly mother of Judge Lefkow were shot to death in her Chicago home. A man whose medical malpractice lawsuit was dismissed by the judge committed suicide last week and left a note saying he was the killer. While the Chicago slayings seem to be the kind most difficult for judges and marshals to guard against, the Atlanta murders are a different situation. In the Fulton County, Ga., courthouse where the shootings occurred, the deputy in the courtroom was armed with a service weapon. But in federal court, all agents, deputies, and other law enforcement personnel must check their weapons in a locker. Only the marshals who provide security for the federal courthouse are armed. Inside federal courtrooms, the security officers who monitor trials are unarmed so defendants or spectators can’t make a play for an officer’s gun. “That has turned out to be an extremely wise decision,” says D.C.’s Kessler. In the state of New York, although every criminal courtroom is manned by armed court officers, those who come into physical contact with defendants never carry firearms, says Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association. “We make them check their guns,” he says. Officers who do carry the standard .9 mm gun hold them in theft-proof double-snap holsters, he adds. ON THE FRONT LINES While the incidents in Chicago and Atlanta have drawn public attention to courtroom security, there have been earlier threats against judges. Just last month, outside a courthouse in Tyler, Texas, a man angry about being sued for unpaid child support opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle, killing his ex-wife and a man trying to help the couple’s adult son. The gunman was later killed in a gun battle with officers. And a federal judge in Tyler earlier this month added almost 22 years to the sentence of a state prison inmate who sent letters graphically detailing his plans to murder another judge and two prosecutors. “Our whole goal is to try to deter them,” says U.S. Attorney Richard Roper of Dallas, whose office prosecuted William Earl Hill for sending letters in which Hill threatened to torture and kill U.S. District Judge Richard Schell and two assistant U.S. attorneys. “Threats are part of our daily lives,” says Judge Sparks of Texas, who has served on the federal bench since 1991. In April 2004, a 24-year-old defendant was shot by a sheriff’s deputy while lunging at a Philadelphia judge after the judge sentenced him to a prison term. Police officials said the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Shawn Frazier responded to his sentence by flipping over the defense counsel table and chasing after the judge, Gary Glazer, who ran out of the room to safety with Frazier in hot pursuit. When Frazier reached the door, the deputy fired a single shot into the defendant’s lower back, police officials said. Judge Kessler says certain kinds of cases pose more risks than others — and not the ones that would seem to pose the biggest threat. “In criminal cases, the procedures for the security of everyone is thorough. They are thought out in advance and are usually effective,” she says, adding that it’s “the noncriminal cases, such as domestic relations, domestic violence and traffic” where situations become unpredictable and sometimes violent. “Traffic courts are the most volatile courtrooms that exist,” she says. Judge Charles Breyer, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, worries about litigants who represent themselves, without benefit of a lawyer. “They’re the ones that present the risk because defendants feel very strongly about cases and take them personally,” says Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. “They don’t have a lawyer’s perspective on it.” Breyer makes a practice of never handing down a decision in this type of case in front of the litigant. This article was written by several ALM reporters, including Legal Times‘ James Oliphant and The Recorder‘s Jeff Chorney and Pam Smith, as well as reporting from Fulton County Daily Report, The Legal Intelligencer, Miami Daily Business Review, the New York Law Journal, and Texas Lawyer.

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