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A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the security concerns of the federal bench Wednesday morning was quickly overshadowed by the fight over judicial nominees. Scheduled after two courthouse-related shootings in Chicago and Atlanta earlier this year, the hearing was intended to examine the role of the U.S. Marshals Service in protecting federal judges and their families. But when it came time for testimony on that role to be heard, few lawmakers were around to listen. For the first hour of the hearing, Room 226 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was packed with media and Senate staff. Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) remarked how Congress needs to do all it can to keep judges safe. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) touted their role in securing $12 million for the Marshals Service to install security systems in judges’ homes. Then the senators heard from Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Lefkow’s husband and mother were shot to death in late February-allegedly by a man who was upset by one of her rulings. The man later committed suicide. Lefkow testified that more can be done to keep judges from being targeted, and she pressed for legislation to keep personal information about judges off the Internet as well as for additional staffing and training of deputy marshals. Lefkow also took issue with what she called gratuitous verbal attacks on the judiciary from the Rev. Pat Robertson and members of Congress. “In this age of mass communication, harsh rhetoric is truly dangerous,” Lefkow said. “It seems to me that even though we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship between rhetorical attacks on judges and violent acts of vengeance by a particular litigant, fostering disrespect for judges can only encourage those that are on the edge, or the fringe, to exact revenge on a judge who ruled against them.” Once Lefkow concluded her testimony, Specter announced he had to leave in order to deal with the debate over Judge Priscilla Owen, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had moved to the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) arrived to preside over the rest of the hearing. As he was leaving, Specter said, “A lot of attention would be paid to the transcript” of the hearing. Nearly all the other senators as well as most of the media and other observers then left, as well. The panel following Lefkow consisted of Benigno Reyna, director of the U.S. Marshals Service; Judge Jane Roth of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and chair of the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Security Committee; U.S. Marshal Kim Widup of the Northern District of Illinois; and Chief Magistrate Judge Samuel Alba of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Roth accused the Marshals Service and the Justice Department of not being forthcoming on the staffing levels of their marshals. “At this point, the judiciary cannot tell Congress or any other interested party whether the local marshals have enough resources and staff,” Roth said. “Furthermore, the [Justice] Department refuses to share any information about Marshals Service staffing levels and formulas or to consider suggestions for change with us.” For the most part, Reyna bypassed Roth’s concerns and testified that the Marshals Service adequately protects the judiciary on a daily basis. But Reyna did say that Congress has not fully funded budget requests for judicial security positions. Sessions asked few questions of the panel, and those he did had little to do with the judiciary’s concerns. At one point, Sessions asked about marshals’ use of stun belts on criminal defendants. Sessions then pointed out that in a 6-1 ruling in 2002, the California Supreme Court severely limited the use of stun belts on defendants during trial. The dissenter, he pointed out, was Judge Janice Rogers Brown, President George W. Bush’s controversial nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “And they blame her for being an extremist,” Sessions said. “But maybe we need to review that state court decision.” Tom Schoenberg can be reached at [email protected]

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