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With threats against federal judges and other court employees on the rise, Congress is focusing on how to provide better protection for the judiciary. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has filed a bill that would toughen mandatory minimum penalties for violent crimes against federal judges or law enforcement officers. Filed on Aug. 4, the Court and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2006 � S. 3835 � also includes a provision to impose mandatory penalties for violent acts carried out against a family member of a federal judge or law enforcement officer with the intent to retaliate against the judge or officer for any act related to his or her performance of official duties. To provide the federal judiciary more security on the home front, the U.S. Marshals Service is overseeing the installation of security systems in the homes of judges who want to participate in the federally-funded program. The Marshals Service is the federal agency responsible for protecting federal judges. David Turner, a spokesman for the Marshals Service, says Congress appropriated about $5 million to the Marshals Service last year through the 2005 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror and Tsunami Relief to pay for alarm systems designed to detect home intrusions. “This is the largest residential alarm system in the country,” Turner says. The Marshals Service had asked Congress to allocate funding to provide home security systems for the federal judiciary after an intruder broke into the Chicago home of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow of the Northern District of Illinois and murdered the judge’s husband and mother on March 1, 2005. The murders of Lefkow’s family members came during a record-setting year for threats against those in the federal courts system. Dave Sacks, another Marshals Service spokesman, says federal marshals investigated 943 threats and inappropriate communications against federal judges and other court employees during the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2005. Figures provided by Sacks show the number of threats and inappropriate communications increased almost every year since fiscal year 2001, when the Marshals Service investigated 640 such incidents. The current fiscal year could break last year’s record. By July, the Marshals Service had 822 reports of threats and inappropriate communications, Sacks says. “Not all of these threaten the lives of judges,” Sacks says, adding that some communications may be very minor. While a threat typically includes a reference to harm, a weapon or a violent act, Sacks says that an inappropriate communication can be “anything that oversteps the bounds of professional decorum to a judicial official.” Cornyn, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court and Texas’ former attorney general, says in a statement that his bill takes steps toward providing additional protections for judges and law enforcement officials. “We must do all that we can to provide adequate security to these dedicated men and women who are too often targeted for violence or harassment simply because of the position they hold,” Cornyn says. According to an analysis provided by Cornyn’s Senate office, the bill would set a minimum prison term of 30 years to life for the murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder or kidnapping of a federal judge or federal law enforcement officer. Under the bill, the death penalty could be imposed when death results from the offense. The bill would set the same penalties for a retaliatory offense against a family member of a federal judge or federal law enforcement officer. David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, says the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Courts hasn’t had an opportunity to review Cornyn’s bill. But Sellers says, “Events of the past year vividly portray the importance of protecting federal judges and courthouses, and we appreciate the congressional attention this need has received.” U.S. District Judge Rob Junell of Midland says he applauds Cornyn for filing the bill. “I’m for anything that would prevent injury or death not only to ordinary citizens but to people in high-profile positions, such as judges,” Junell says. Action on the bill isn’t likely to come for some time. Congress is in recess and will not return to work until Sept. 3. Meanwhile, the Marshals Service is continuing with the installation of security systems in federal judges’ homes. Mike Brumbaugh, the Marshals Service’s program manager for residential systems, says 72 percent � about 1,600 � of the approximately 2,200 federal judges have expressed an interest in participating in the program. Citing security concerns, Brumbaugh declines to say how many federal judges in Texas have indicated they want to participate in the program. “But Texas is on track with the rest of the country,” Turner says. “We expect that by Sept. 1 we are going to see in Texas the same success that we’re going to experience in Rhode Island or Indiana or anywhere else.” Brumbaugh says the Marshals Service plans to complete installation of the home security systems by Sept. 30. New program The judges who signed up for the federally funded home security systems or monitoring for their existing systems could be taxed for that service, however. The Marshals Service asked the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division to determine whether the judges will have to pay taxes for that benefit. U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish of Dallas, chief judge of the Northern District of Texas, says he won’t be surprised if the DOJ determines that the home security service is taxable. “It’s kind of an in-kind service,” Fish says. U.S. District Judge Richard Schell of Sherman says he had a contract with a home security company but decided to switch to the federal government’s contractor, ADT Security Services. “I would not be a happy camper if it were [taxable],” Schell says of the service. Tax attorney William R. “Bill” McIlhany, a partner in Jackson Walker in Austin, says that providing a home security system to a judge is, in a sense, like giving the judge a raise. A judge who has been paying out of his own pocket to provide a security system for his home now can get a system paid for by the federal government. The general rule for what is taxable income is the “accession to wealth not excluded by law,” McIlhany says. McIlhany says that unless Congress excludes the security systems � and he is not aware of any exception for the systems � the judges probably will have to pay taxes on them. “I think it will take some kind of congressional carve-out to recognize that this is not taxable,” he says. U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield of Beaumont, chief judge of the Eastern District, isn’t too concerned about the possibility that he’ll be taxed for the home security service. “My feeling about that is if we’re taxed, that’s just how it is,” Heartfield says. But he adds, “It’s kind of like being taxed for having a marshal standing next to you.” However, Heartfield says that having a home security system makes him feel more secure. “I see that red light [and] it almost puts me to sleep,” he says. Heartfield says he worries about prisoners who are unhappy because federal sentencing guidelines require them to spend long years in prison. “They’ve got nothing to lose,” he says. But three judges interviewed by Texas Lawyer say they did not sign up for the federally funded program. “I already have a security system at my home,” says U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore of Houston. Gilmore says she had a security system installed in her home in the mid-1980s after someone broke in when she was in the house. Although the intruder did not try to harm her, Gilmore says, police questioned why she did not have an alarm system. “I put a security system in my house; I’ve had one ever since,” she says. While she did not sign up for the new program being provided to the federal judiciary, Gilmore says that ADT reviewed her system and recommended ways to update it. “Things had gotten obsolete on my system,” Gilmore says. Fish says he’s not participating in the ADT-monitored system because he recently signed a three-year contract with another home security company. “I’ll just watch to see how the federal program goes,” he says. U.S. District Judge David Folsom of Texarkana says he hasn’t taken advantage of the federally funded program. “I have a wonderful outside dog and a wonderful inside dog,” Folsom says. “I think the best security system is a good barking dog.” U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin says the Marshals Service and ADT conducted an inventory of his home security system and he decided to switch to ADT’s monitoring service. Sparks says most federal judges have home security surveillance because “we get threats all the time.” U.S. marshals even provided security when he and his wife married in 1995 because he had received a threat, Sparks says. Notes Sparks, “The marshals spent the night with us.”

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