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Acting in the wake of recent assaults on judges and their families, the nation’s top federal judges on Tuesday called on law enforcement officials to undertake a full review of security measures for judges, especially at their homes. With the ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding over its closed-door meeting at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Judicial Conference passed a resolution describing the “crisis in off-site judicial security” as a matter “of the gravest concern to the federal judiciary.” The resolution went on to say that “addressing this matter is of the highest urgency to the conference.” The conference, which sets policy for the judiciary, met two weeks after the husband and mother of Chicago U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow were murdered � allegedly by a disgruntled litigant � and four days after Georgia state judge Rowland Barnes was shot to death in his Atlanta courtroom. “Judges all over the country are terribly concerned,” said Carolyn Dineen King, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and chair of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference, in a press conference after the meeting. The conference, comprising judges from all federal circuits and the Court of International Trade, heard from congressional leaders as well as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. All, according to King, pledged cooperation in reviewing judicial security measures. Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer, presided over the conference’s meeting for a full two hours, without a break or any apparent difficulty. It was his first non-Supreme Court official function since swearing in President George W. Bush for a second term on Jan. 20. Rehnquist has not been on the bench for oral arguments since late October, but still votes in most cases and has authored several decisions. “He did great. He presided as he has always presided,” said King. “And he was in very good humor.” She said that Rehnquist still showed evidence of his October tracheotomy surgery, but “his speaking was fine,” and he was not in a wheelchair. “When he came in and when he left, there was a standing ovation,” said King. “From my standpoint, it was business as usual. It was a joy to see.” On the security question, King said the judges’ concern focused on off-site measures, in part because the federal judges targeted in recent decades have all been attacked at their homes. She said that judges themselves bear some of the responsibility for gaps in home security, because many “haven’t asked” for the security review that the U.S. Marshals Service already offers. Experts will come to judges’ homes to review alarm systems and other features, including landscaping, and will recommend improvements judges can make on their own. One issue for the future, said King, will be whether the government should be asked to pay for increased security measures at judges’ homes. After a separate meeting between some conference members and officials of the Marshals Service, 3rd Circuit Judge Jane Roth said in a statement that officials had “assured us of their personal commitment to the protection of federal judges.” Roth, who heads the conference’s security committee, also called for increased funding for the “chronically understaffed” Marshals Service. On Monday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the director of the Marshals Service, Benigno Reyna, asking that the agency review “whether current security and protection operations are adequate” to safeguard judges both in courthouses and in their homes. Specter pledged to hold committee hearings on the issue soon. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the conference passed a resolution urging Congress to take no immediate action on sentencing legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s January Booker and Fanfan decisions, which struck down the federal sentencing system and made the current guidelines advisory. The conference also recommended the creation of 68 new judgeships at both the appeals court and district court levels to handle growing caseloads. Asked why the meetings of the conference are closed to the press and public, King said that they have been closed “since time immemorial.” Was anything discussed that could not have been discussed in public? “No, not one thing,” King replied. Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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